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  1. Abstract

    Multiple recent observations in the mesosphere have revealed large-scale Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities (KHI) exhibiting diverse spatial features and temporal evolutions. The first event reported by Hecht et al. exhibited multiple features resembling those seen to arise in early laboratory shear-flow studies described as “tube” and “knot” (T&K) dynamics by Thorpe. The potential importance of T&K dynamics in the atmosphere, and in the oceans and other stratified and sheared fluids, is due to their accelerated turbulence transitions and elevated energy dissipation rates relative to KHI turbulence transitions occurring in their absence. Motivated by these studies, we survey recent observational evidence of multiscale Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities throughout the atmosphere, many features of which closely resemble T&K dynamics observed in the laboratory and idealized initial modeling. These efforts will guide further modeling assessing the potential importance of these T&K dynamics in turbulence generation, energy dissipation, and mixing throughout the atmosphere and other fluids. We expect these dynamics to have implications for parameterizing mixing and transport in stratified shear flows in the atmosphere and oceans that have not been considered to date. Companion papers describe results of a multiscale gravity wave direct numerical simulation (DNS) that serendipitously exhibits a number of KHI T&K events and an idealized multiscale DNS of KHI T&K dynamics without gravity wave influences.

    Significance Statement

    Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities (KHI) occur throughout the atmosphere and induce turbulence and mixing that need to be represented in weather prediction and other models of the atmosphere and oceans. This paper documents recent atmospheric evidence for widespread, more intense, features of KHI dynamics that arise where KH billows are initially discontinuous, misaligned, or varying along their axes. These features initiate strong local vortex interactions described as “tubes” and “knots” in early laboratory experiments, suggested by, but not recognized in, earlier atmospheric and oceanic profiling, and only recently confirmed in newer, high-resolution atmospheric imaging and idealized modeling to date.

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  2. Abstract

    Stratospheric gravity waves observed during the DEEPWAVE research flight RF25 over the Southern Ocean are analyzed and compared with numerical weather prediction (NWP) model results. The quantitative agreement of the NWP model output and the tropospheric and lower-stratospheric observations is remarkable. The high-resolution NWP models are even able to reproduce qualitatively the observed upper-stratospheric gravity waves detected by an airborne Rayleigh lidar. The usage of high-resolution ERA5 data—partially capturing the long internal gravity waves—enabled a thorough interpretation of the particular event. Here, the observed and modeled gravity waves are excited by the stratospheric flow past a deep tropopause depression belonging to an eastward-propagating Rossby wave train. In the reference frame of the propagating Rossby wave, vertically propagating hydrostatic gravity waves appear stationary; in reality, of course, they are transient and propagate horizontally at the phase speed of the Rossby wave. The subsequent refraction of these transient gravity waves into the polar night jet explains their observed and modeled patchy stratospheric occurrence near 60°S. The combination of both unique airborne observations and high-resolution NWP output provides evidence for the one case investigated in this paper. As the excitation of such gravity waves persists during the quasi-linear propagation phase of the Rossby wave’s life cycle, a hypothesis is formulated that parts of the stratospheric gravity wave belt over the Southern Ocean might be generated by such Rossby wave trains propagating along the midlatitude waveguide.

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  3. A narrowband sodium resonance wind-temperature lidar (SRWTL) has been deployed at Poker Flat Research Range, Chatanika, Alaska (PFRR, 65° N, 147° W). Based on the Weber narrowband SRWTL, the PFRR SRWTL transmitter was upgraded with a state-of-the-art solid-state tunable diode laser as the seed laser. The PFRR SRWTL currently makes simultaneous measurements in the zenith and 20° off-zenith towards the north with two transmitted beams and two telescopes. Initial results for both nighttime and daytime measurements are presented. We review the performance of the PFRR SRWTL in terms of seven previous and currently operating SRWTLs. The transmitted power from the pulsed dye amplifier (PDA) is comparable with other SRWTL systems (900 mW). However, while the efficiency of the seeding and frequency shifting is comparable to other SRWTLs the efficiency of the pumping is lower. The uncertainties of temperature and wind measurements induced by photon noise at the peak of the layer with a 5 min, 1 km resolution are estimated to be ~1 K and 2 m/s for nighttime conditions, and 10 K and 6 m/s for daytime conditions. The relative efficiency of the zenith receiver is comparable to other SRWTLs (90–97%), while the efficiency of the north off-zenith receiver needs further optimization. An upgrade of the PFRR SRWTL to a full three-beam system with zenith, northward and eastward measurements is in progress. 
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  4. Abstract

    On the night of 18–19 October 2018, sodium resonance lidar measurements show the presence of overturning in the mesospheric sodium layer. Two independent tracers, sodium mixing ratio and potential temperature, derived from resonance and Rayleigh lidar measurements, reveal that vertical spreading of the sodium mixing ratio contours and a layer of convective instability coincide with this overturning. Analysis of lidar measurements also reveals the presence of gravity waves that propagate upward, are saturated, and dissipate at the height of the convective instability. The vertical spreading is analyzed in terms of turbulent diffusive transport using a model based on material continuity of sodium. Estimates of the turbulent eddy diffusion coefficient, K, and energy dissipation rate,εare derived from the transport model. The energy dissipated by the gravity waves is also calculated and found to be sufficient to generate the turbulence. We consider three other examples of overturning, instability and spreading on the nights of: 17–18 February 2009, 25–26 January 2015, and 8–9 October 2018. For all four events we find that the values of K (∼1,000 m2/s) are larger and the values ofε(∼10–100 mW/kg) are of similar magnitude to those values typically reported by ionization gauge measurements. These examples also reveal that higher levels of turbulent mixing are consistently found in regions of lower stability.

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  5. Abstract

    The Polar Mesospheric Cloud (PMC) Turbulence experiment performed optical imaging and Rayleigh lidar PMC profiling during a 6‐day flight in July 2018. A mosaic of seven imagers provided sensitivity to spatial scales from ∼20 m to 100 km at a ∼2‐s cadence. Lidar backscatter measurements provided PMC brightness profiles and enabled definition of vertical displacements of larger‐scale gravity waves (GWs) and smaller‐scale instabilities of various types. These measurements captured an interval of strong, widespread Kelvin‐Helmholtz instabilities (KHI) occurring over northeastern Canada on July 12, 2018 during a period of significant GW activity. This paper addresses the evolution of the KHI field and the characteristics and roles of secondary instabilities within the KHI. Results include the imaging of secondary KHI in the middle atmosphere and multiple examples of KHI “tube and knot” (T&K) dynamics where two or more KH billows interact. Such dynamics have been identified clearly only once in the atmosphere previously. Results reveal that KHI T&K arise earlier and evolve more quickly than secondary instabilities of uniform KH billows. A companion paper by Fritts et al. (2022), that they also induce significantly larger energy dissipation rates than secondary instabilities of individual KH billows. The expected widespread occurrence of KHI T&K events may have important implications for enhanced turbulence and mixing influencing atmospheric structure and variability.

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  6. Abstract. In this paper we present an overview of measurements conducted during the WADIS-2 rocket campaign. We investigate the effect of small-scale processes like gravity waves and turbulence on the distribution of atomic oxygen and other species in the mesosphere–lower thermosphere (MLT) region. Our analysis suggests that density fluctuations of atomic oxygen are coupled to fluctuations of other constituents, i.e., plasma and neutrals. Our measurements show that all measured quantities, including winds, densities, and temperatures, reveal signatures of both waves and turbulence. We show observations of gravity wave saturation and breakdown together with simultaneous measurements of generated turbulence. Atomic oxygen inside turbulence layers shows two different spectral behaviors, which might imply a change in its diffusion properties. 
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  7. Abstract

    Though the Kelvin‐Helmholtz instability (KHI) has been extensively observed in the mesosphere, where breaking gravity waves produce the conditions required for instability, little has been done to describe quantitatively this phenomenon in detail in the mesopause and lower thermosphere, which are associated with the long‐lived shears at the base of this statically stable region. Using trimethylaluminum (TMA) released from two sounding rockets launched on 26 January 2018, from Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska, the KHI was observed in great detail above 100 km. Two sets of rocket measurements, made 30 min apart, show strong winds (predominantly meridional and up to 150 ms−1) and large total shears (90 ms−1 km−1). The geomagnetic activity was low in the hours before the launches, confirming that the enhanced shears that triggered the KHI are not a result of the E‐region auroral jets. The four‐dimensional (three‐dimensional plus time) estimation of KHI billow features resulted in a wavelength, eddy diameter, and vertical length scale of 9.8, 5.2, and 3.8 km, respectively, centered at 102‐km altitude. The vertical and horizontal root‐mean‐square velocities measured 29.2 and 42.5 ms−1, respectively. Although the wind structure persisted, the KHI structure changed significantly with time over the interval separating the two launches, being present only in the first launch. The rapid dispersal of the TMA cloud in the instability region was evidence of enhanced turbulent mixing. The analysis of the Reynolds and Froude numbers (Re = 7.2 × 103andFr = 0.29, respectively) illustrates the presence of turbulence and weak stratification of the flow.

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  8. Abstract

    The Polar Mesospheric Cloud Turbulence (PMC Turbo) experiment was designed to observe and quantify the dynamics of small‐scale gravity waves (GWs) and instabilities leading to turbulence in the upper mesosphere during polar summer using instruments aboard a stratospheric balloon. The PMC Turbo scientific payload comprised seven high‐resolution cameras and a Rayleigh lidar. Overlapping wide and narrow camera field of views from the balloon altitude of ~38 km enabled resolution of features extending from ~20 m to ~100 km at the PMC layer altitude of ~82 km. The Rayleigh lidar provided profiles of temperature below the PMC altitudes and of the PMCs throughout the flight. PMCs were imaged during an ~5.9‐day flight from Esrange, Sweden, to Northern Canada in July 2018. These data reveal sensitivity of the PMCs and the dynamics driving their structure and variability to tropospheric weather and larger‐scale GWs and tides at the PMC altitudes. Initial results reveal strong modulation of PMC presence and brightness by larger‐scale waves, significant variability in the occurrence of GWs and instability dynamics on time scales of hours, and a diversity of small‐scale dynamics leading to instabilities and turbulence at smaller scales. At multiple times, the overall field of view was dominated by extensive and nearly continuous GWs and instabilities at horizontal scales from ~2 to 100 km, suggesting sustained turbulence generation and persistence. At other times, GWs were less pronounced and instabilities were localized and/or weaker, but not absent. An overview of the PMC Turbo experiment motivations, scientific goals, and initial results is presented here.

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