Geoscientific Model Development (May 2024)

An objective identification technique for potential vorticity structures associated with African easterly waves

  • C. Fischer,
  • C. Fischer,
  • C. Fischer,
  • A. H. Fink,
  • E. Schömer,
  • M. Rautenhaus,
  • M. Riemer

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 17
pp. 4213 – 4228


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Tropical Africa and the North Atlantic Ocean are significantly influenced by African easterly waves (AEWs), which play a fundamental role in tropical rainfall and cyclogenesis in that region. The dynamics of AEWs can be described in a potential vorticity (PV) framework. The important impact of latent heat release by cloud processes is captured in this framework by the diabatic generation of PV anomalies. This paper introduces an innovative approach for the identification and tracking of PV structures within AEWs. By employing AEW tracking and computing the wave phase of each point within the AEW domain using a Hilbert transform, we are able to effectively identify and collect 3-D PV structures associated with specific AEWs. To facilitate a climatological analysis, performed here over the months of June to October from 2002 to 2022, these structures are subsequently characterized by low-dimensional descriptors, including their location, intensity, and orientation. Our climatological analysis reveals the seasonal evolution and the structural attributes of PV anomalies within AEWs over the study domain. PV feature locations closely align with the African easterly jet's latitudinal shift during the summer season. Analysis of the mean pressure level of the 3-D PV structures shows a remarkable shift during their life cycle, indicating deep moist convection characteristics over land and more shallow convection characteristics over the ocean. On average, PV features identified within AEW troughs tilt downshear over land and equatorward over the ocean. The trough-centered analysis reveals distinct differences between satellite-estimated and model-predicted rainfall. Agreement between the results of a more traditional composite analysis and our new feature analysis provides confidence in our feature approach as a novel diagnostic tool. The feature framework provides a low-dimensional representation of the PV structure of AEWs, which facilitates future statistical analyses of the relation of this structure to, for example, tropical cyclogenesis or the predictability of tropical rainfall.