Barotropic and baroclinic annular variability in the Southern Hemisphere

David W. J. Thompson, Jonathan D. Woodworth

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The leading patterns of large-scale climate variability in the Southern Hemisphere are examined in the context of extratropical kinetic energy. It is argued that variability in the Southern Hemisphere extratropical flow can be viewed in the context of two distinct and largely independent structures, both of which exhibit a high degree of annularity: 1) a barotropic structure that dominates the variance in the zonal-mean kinetic energy and 2) a baroclinic structure that dominates the variance in the eddy kinetic energy. The former structure corresponds to the southern annular mode (SAM) and has been extensively examined in the literature. The latter structure emerges as the leading principal component time series of eddy kinetic energy and has received seemingly little attention in previous work.

The two structures play very different roles in cycling energy through the extratropical troposphere. The SAM is associated primarily with variability in the meridional propagation of wave activity, has a surprisingly weak signature in the eddy fluxes of heat, and can be modeled as Gaussian red noise with an e-folding time scale of approximately 10 days. The baroclinic annular structure is associated primarily with variations in the amplitude of vertically propagating waves, has a very weak signature in the wave fluxes of momentum, and exhibits marked quasi periodicity on time scales of approximately 25–30 days. Implications for large-scale climate variability are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1480–1493
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2014


  • Annular mode
  • Large-scale motions

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