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The Empirical Forcing Function as a tool for the diagnosis of large-scale atmospheric anomalies

Copernicus Publications
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  • Mathematics
  • Medicine


The time-mean quasi-geostrophic potential vorticity equation of the atmospheric flow on isobaric surfaces can explicitly include an atmospheric (internal) forcing term of the stationary-eddy flow. In fact, neglecting some non-linear terms in this equation, this forcing can be mathematically expressed as a single function, called Empirical Forcing Function (EFF), which is equal to the material derivative of the time-mean potential vorticity. Furthermore, the EFF can be decomposed as a sum of seven components, each one representing a forcing mechanism of different nature. These mechanisms include diabatic components associated with the radiative forcing, latent heat release and frictional dissipation, and components related to transient eddy transports of heat and momentum. All these factors quantify the role of the transient eddies in forcing the atmospheric circulation. In order to assess the relevance of the EFF in diagnosing large-scale anomalies in the atmospheric circulation, the relationship between the EFF and the occurrence of strong North Atlantic ridges over the Eastern North Atlantic is analyzed, which are often precursors of severe droughts over Western Iberia. For such events, the EFF pattern depicts a clear dipolar structure over the North Atlantic; cyclonic (anticyclonic) forcing of potential vorticity is found upstream (downstream) of the anomalously strong ridges. Results also show that the most significant components are related to the diabatic processes. Lastly, these results highlight the relevance of the EFF in diagnosing large-scale anomalies, also providing some insight into their interaction with different physical mechanisms.

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