Space Science Reviews

, Volume 168, Issue 1–4, pp 283–314 | Cite as

Dynamical Control of the Middle Atmosphere

  • Erich BeckerEmail author


This review recapitulates the concept of the wave-driven residual circulation in the stratosphere and mesosphere. The residual circulation is defined as the conventional mean meridional circulation corrected by the quasi-linear Stokes drift due to atmospheric waves. Only when the zonal-mean primitive equations are transformed using the residual circulation, they reflect the causality arising from the Eliassen-Palm (EP) theorem. The EP theorem states that the proper wave-mean flow interaction, defined as the EP flux divergence, vanishes for waves that are linear, conservative, and steady. In the real atmosphere, this theorem is violated mainly due to wave breaking and turbulence. The resulting EP flux divergence then drives a residual circulation which causes the observed substantial deviations from some hypothetical radiatively determined state. With regard to this dynamical control we discuss the different contributions of Rossby waves and gravity waves. Recapitulation of Lindzen’s theory of gravity-wave saturation allows us to interpret various phenomena in the upper mesosphere such as interhemispheric coupling or modulations of the gravity-wave driven branch of the residual circulation by solar proton effects and thermal tides. In addition we discuss the relative importance of changes in radiative transfer and tropospheric gravity-wave sources on the long-term temperature trends in the summer mesosphere.


Residual circulation Eliassen-Palm theorem Rossby waves Gravity waves Variability of the summer mesosphere 



I am indebted to Erdal Yiǧit for his thorough review and many helpful comments on the manuscript, as well as to Norbert Grieger and Christoph Zülicke for preparing the data analyses on tides and sudden stratospheric warmings used in this paper. Other valuable comments by Fabian Senf, Thomas Birner, and Corinna Schütt are gratefully acknowledged. Last not least I thank Rudolf Treumann for initiating this review.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leibniz Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the University of RostockKühlungsbornGermany

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