Measurements of atmospheric stability in the mesopause region at starfire optical range, NM

Yucheng Zhao, Alan Z. Liu, Chester S. Gardner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The structure and seasonal variations of static (convective) and dynamic (shear) instabilities in the mesopause region (80-105 km) are examined using high-resolution wind and temperature data obtained with a Na lidar at the Starfire Optical Range, NM. The probabilities of static and dynamic instability are sensitive functions of N2/S2, where N is the buoyancy frequency and S is the total vertical shear in the horizontal winds. The mesopause region is most stable in summer when the mesopause is low, N is large and S is small. Monthly mean N2/S2 varies from a maximum value of about 1.06 in mid-summer to a minimum of 0.68 in January. The annual mean values of N and S are, respectively, 0:021 s-1 and 23 ms-1 km-1. The probabilities of static and dynamic instabilities are maximum in mid-winter when they average about 10% and 12%, respectively, and are minimum in summer when they average about 7% and 5%, respectively. The observations are generally consistent with theoretical predictions based on Gaussian models for the temperature and wind fluctuations induced by gravity waves. They also show that statically unstable conditions are generally preceded by dynamically unstable conditions. The instability probabilities vary considerably from night to night and the structure of the unstable regions are significantly influenced by atmospheric tides. Tides alone are usually not strong enough to induce instability but they can establish the environment for instabilities to develop. As the tidal temperature perturbations propagate downward, they reduce the stability on the topside of the positive temperature perturbation. Instabilities are then induced as gravity waves propagate through this layer of reduced static stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-232
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2003


  • Dynamic instability
  • Gravity wave
  • Na lidar
  • Static instability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science


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