Understanding the scale interaction of atmospheric transient disturbances and its coupling with the hydrological cycle over the Pacific-North American regions
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Large-scale atmospheric disturbances play important roles in determining the general circulation of the atmosphere during the North Pacific boreal winter. A number of scientific questions have been raised due to these disturbances’ spatial and temporal complexity as well as the hydrological implication associated with them. In this dissertation, the principal goal is to further improve our understanding of the atmospheric high frequency (HF) and intermediate frequency (IF) disturbances active over the North Pacific. The study focuses on their energetics, intraseasonal and interannual variability, and the resulting hydrological impact over the eastern North Pacific and Western U.S. including extreme events. To delineate the characteristics of HF and IF disturbances in the troposphere, we first derive a new set of equations governing the local eddy kinetic energy (EKE), and assess the critical processes maintaining local budgets of the HF and IF EKE. The diagnosis assesses the 3-D patterns of energy flux convergence (EFC), barotropic conversion (BT), baroclinic conversion (BC), and cross-frequency eddy-eddy interaction (CFEI). The local EKE budget analysis is followed by an investigation of the modulation of HF and IF eddy activity by different modes of low frequency climate variability. On interannual timescales, the response of various local energetic processes to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) determines the HF and IF EKE anomalies and the role of CFEI process is important in producing these anomalies. Also on interannual timescales, winter precipitation deficits associated with suppressed cyclonic activity, i.e., negative HF EKE anomalies, are linked to severe droughts over the U.S. Southern Great Plain (SGP) region. The suppressed cyclonic activity is, in turn, tied to phase changes in the West Pacific (WP) teleconnection pattern. On intraseasonal timescales, variations in HF disturbances (a.k.a. storm tracks) over the North Pacific are closely coupled with tropical convection anomalies induced by the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), and partly drive larger scale intraseasonal flow anomalies in this region through eddy-eddy interactions. Anomalous HF eddy activity induces subseasonal transitions between “wet” and “dry” regimes over the west coast of North America. Also on intraseasonal timescales, the East Asian cold surge (EACS) is found to provide a remote forcing of the winter precipitation anomalies in the western U.S. This modulation is achieved through “atmospheric rivers” (ARs), which are narrow channels of concentrated moisture transport in the atmosphere and are responsible for over 70% of the extreme precipitation events in the western U.S.. EACS effectively modulates the IF disturbance activity over the North Pacific, and the anomalous IF disturbances lead to the formation of an AR over the eastern North Pacific that ultimately induces precipitation anomalies in the western U.S. Analyses of the simulations from the NCAR Community Climate System Model version 4 (CCSM4) demonstrate that the connections among the EACS, AR and western U.S. precipitation are better captured by a model with higher spatial resolutions. The improved simulation of these connections is achieved mainly through a better representation of the IF disturbances, and the associated scale-interaction processes in the higher resolution model.