Gravity waves, lee waves and turbulence


Synoptic and Mesoscale Analysis of Satellite Images 2018 Course

Length: 51 min

Author: Andreas Wirth, Yasmin Markl (ZAMG)


Gravity waves are omnipresent in the atmosphere. In this presentation you will hear more about the different wave types, their appearance in satellite imagery and about their physical background.
Most gravity waves are generated by orographic elevations and in this case we call them lee waves. They can present a serious threat to aircrafts when the air flow changes from laminar to turbulent or when rotor clouds are generated. When this happens without accompanying condensation processes, the phenomenon is called "Clear Air Turbulence" (CAT). In many cases, waves in the atmosphere are accompanied by a characteristic cloud pattern visible in the IR and VIS imagery that helps in identifying regions potentially hazardous for aircrafts.
Gravity waves can however also result from internal friction/shear processes when two layers of air with different physical properties (e.g. temperature, density, wind speed ...) are acting one on the other. This wave type is called Kelvin-Helmholtz wave. Turbulence caused by velocity and directional shear are relatively common in the upper Troposphere in the regions of jet streaks.


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