Aeolus wind lidar observations of the 2019/2020 Quasi-Biennial Oscillation disruption with comparison to radiosondes and reanalysis

Timothy P. Banyard, Corwin J. Wright, Scott M. Osprey, Neil P. Hindley, Gemma Halloran, Lawrence Coy, Paul A. Newman, Neal Butchart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) was unexpectedly disrupted for only the second time in the historical record during the 2019/2020 boreal winter. As the dominant mode of atmospheric variability in the tropical stratosphere and a significant source of seasonal predictability globally, understanding the drivers behind this unusual behaviour is very important. Here, novel data from Aeolus, the first Doppler wind lidar (DWL) in space, are used to observe the 2019/2020 QBO disruption. Aeolus is the first satellite able to observe winds at high resolution on a global scale, and it is therefore a uniquely capable platform for studying the evolution of the disruption and the broader circulation changes triggered by it. This study therefore contains the first direct wind observations of the QBO from space, and it exploits measurements from a special Aeolus scanning mode, implemented to observe this disruption as it happened. Aeolus observes easterly winds of up to 20 m s−1 in the core of the disruption jet during July 2020. By co-locating with radiosonde measurements from Singapore and the ERA5 reanalysis, comparisons of the observed wind structures in the tropical stratosphere are produced, showing differences in equatorial wave activity during the disruption period. Local zonal wind biases are found in both Aeolus and ERA5 around the tropopause, and the average Aeolus-ERA5 Rayleigh horizontal line-of-sight random error is found to be 7.58 m s−1. The onset of the QBO disruption easterly jet occurs 5 d earlier in Aeolus observations compared with the reanalysis. This discrepancy is linked to Kelvin wave variances that are 3 to 6 m2 s−2 higher in Aeolus compared with ERA5, centred on regions of maximum vertical wind shear in the tropical tropopause layer that are up to twice as sharp. The enhanced lower-stratospheric westerly winds which are known to help disrupt the QBO, perhaps with increasing frequency as the climate changes, are also stronger in Aeolus observations, with important implications for the future predictability of such disruptions. An investigation into differences in the equivalent depth of the most dominant Kelvin waves suggests that slower, shorter-vertical-wavelength waves break more readily in Aeolus observations compared with the reanalysis. This analysis therefore highlights how Aeolus and future DWL satellites can deepen our understanding of the QBO, its disruptions and the tropical upper-troposphere lower-stratosphere region more generally.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number4
Early online date27 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Feb 2024


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