Lead


Lay summary
Warm conveyor belts (WCBs) are coherent airstreams that typically develop along cold fronts associated with extratropical cyclones. These airstreams originate in the moist subtropical marine boundary layer and ascend within 1-2 days to the upper troposphere whilst moving more than 2000 km towards the pole. They occur most frequently during winter in the western North Pacific and North Atlantic where they are responsible for the major part of precipitation. The key role of WCBs for the dynamics of the synoptic and large-scale atmospheric flow stems from their profound impact upon the tropospheric distribution of potential vorticity (PV). The coherent ascent of WCBs leads to the diabatic production of a positive PV anomaly in the lower troposphere and of a negative PV anomaly in upper-level ridges just below the tropopause. When interacting with the extratropical waveguide, these negative PV anomalies can exert a profound impact upon the downstream flow evolution. Hence a WCB can be the trigger for the amplification and breaking of an upper-level Rossby wave, which is particularly relevant in situations where Rossby wave breaking events act as precursors of high-impact weather systems (e.g., heavy precipitation in the western Mediterranean, Saharan dust storms, cold air outbreaks). Recent studies indicate that errors in medium-range numerical weather predictions might be related to the inaccurate representation of WCBs and their effect on upper-level PV. In order to advance the basic understanding of these complex, non-linear and highly important dynamical processes, this project will (i) investigate the parameters and processes that determine the intensity of a WCB, its associated PV evolution and downstream effects, (ii) assess the errors in global models' analyses and forecasts associated with the different stages of a WCB life cycle, (iii) quantify the climatological frequency of the triggering and intensification of upper-level Rossby waves by WCBs, and (iv) provide clear guidance for investigating the dynamics of WCBs within the framework of THORPEX field experiments. In three subprojects, complementary techniques will be applied in order to reach these objectives, including idealized simulations of moist baroclinic waves, real case sensitivity experiments, diagnostic investigations based upon (re-)analysis and forecast data, and a feature-based verification of WCBs in global models using independent observational datasets. In this way this project will contribute to an improved basic understanding of the dynamical effects of WCBs on the downstream evolution of upper-level Rossby waves and (high-impact) surface weather events.