Climate Dynamics

, Volume 50, Issue 9–10, pp 3775–3782 | Cite as

Observational evidence of the downstream impact on tropical rainfall from stratospheric Kelvin waves

  • Lei Zhang
  • Kristopher B. Karnauskas
  • Jeffrey B. Weiss
  • Lorenzo M. Polvani


Analysis of one continuous decade of daily, high-vertical resolution sounding data from five proximate islands in the western equatorial Pacific region reveals eastward and downward propagating Kelvin waves in the tropical stratosphere, with a zonal wave number one structure and a period of ~15 days. By defining an initiation index, we find that these waves are primarily generated over the western Pacific warm pool and South America–tropical Atlantic sector, consistent with regions of frequent deep convection. The zonal phase speed of the stratospheric Kelvin waves (SKWs) is relatively slow (~10 m s−1) over the initiation region due to coupling with deep convection, and becomes much faster (~30–40 m s−1) once decoupled from the downstream troposphere. SKWs have significant impacts on downstream tropical rainfall through modulation of tropopause height. The cold phase of SKWs at tropopause leads to higher tropopause heights and more convection in tropics—with opposite impacts associated with the warm phase. Downstream tropical precipitation anomalies associated with these SKWs also propagate eastward with the same speed and zonal scale as observed SKWs. Interannual variability of the amplitude of the SKWs is shown to be associated with the Quasi-Biennial oscillation (QBO); implications for predictability are discussed.


Stratosphere Kelvin waves Tropopause Tropical convection Sounding observations Intraseasonal variability Precipitation 



The authors thank Larry Oolman at University of Wyoming for providing the daily sounding data ( and Ralph Milliff for a useful discussion. LMP is funded, in part by a grant from the US National Science Foundation. JBW is funded in part by NSF-OCE 1245944. All data sets used in this study are publicly available.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental SciencesUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic SciencesUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  3. 3.Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics and Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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