Published: Feb. 5, 2019
Xinzhao Chu with a group of students in Antarctica.

New research by Xinzhao Chu, a professor of Smead Aerospace and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, and her team shows gravity waves above Antarctica exhibit seasonal patterns that peak in winter, which could help researchers trace the source of the mysterious phenomenon.

Gravity waves are enormous vertical oscillations of air that propagate through the atmosphere like ripples in quiet water, and they are perpetually present in the Antarctic atmosphere.

Because these waves can create air turbulence and affect weather and climate by transporting energy and momentum between atmospheric layers, researchers have diligently searched for their sources.

Any gravity wave source must be constrained by wave properties observed in the atmospheric layers between 50 and 115 kilometers above Earth’s surface, where persistent gravity waves were first documented, and in the underlying stratosphere, where gravity waves have not yet been rigorously characterized.

To help fill this gap, Chu et al. report the results of a detailed statistical analysis of gravity wave characteristics in the stratosphere. Their data, which span from 2011 to 2015, are derived from the first multiyear, year-round measurements of temperature fluctuations made using an iron Boltzmann lidar system at the Arrival Heights observatory near Antarctica’s McMurdo Station. Read the full story at Earth & Space Science News.