Accuracy of rotational and divergent kinetic energy spectra diagnosed from flight-track winds

Lotte Bierdel, Chris Snyder, Sang Hun Park, William C. Skamarock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Under assumptions of horizontal homogeneity and isotropy, one may derive relations between rotational or divergent kinetic energy spectra and velocities along one-dimensional tracks, such as might be measured by aircraft. Two recent studies, differing in details of their implementation, have applied these relations to the Measurement of Ozone and Water Vapor by Airbus In-Service Aircraft (MOZAIC) dataset and reached different conclusions with regard to the mesoscale ratio of divergent to rotational kinetic energy. In this study the accuracy of the method is assessed using global atmospheric simulations performed with the Model for Prediction Across Scales, where the exact decomposition of the horizontal winds into divergent and rotational components may be easily computed. For data from the global simulations, the two approaches yield similar and very accurate results. Errors are largest for the divergent component on synoptic scales, which is shown to be related to a very dominant rotational mode. The errors are, in particular, sufficiently small so that the mesoscale ratio of divergent to rotational kinetic energy can be derived correctly. The proposed technique thus provides a strong observational check of model results with existing large commercial aircraft datasets. The results do, however, show a significant dependence on the height and latitude ranges considered, and the disparate conclusions drawn from previous applications to MOZAIC data may result from the use of different subsets of the data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3273-3286
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Aug 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Lotte Bierdel was supported by NCAR's Advanced Study Program during a collaborative visit to NCAR. The authors furthermore thank Rich Rotunno and three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on the manuscript.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science

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