Zonal jets as meridional transport barriers in the subtropical and polar lower stratosphere

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16 Scopus citations


Applications of recent results from dynamical systems theory to the study of transport and mixing in incompressible two-dimensional flows lead to the expectation that, independent of the background potential vorticity (PV) distribution, weakly perturbed zonal jets are associated with barriers that inhibit meridional transport. Here the authors provide evidence in support of this expectation based on the analysis of isentropic winds in the lower stratosphere as produced by the Canadian Middle Atmosphere Model (CMAM), a comprehensive general circulation model. Specifically, barriers to meridional transport are found to be associated with the (eastward) austral polar night jet, for which the meridional gradient of background PV is large, and also for the (westward) boreal summer subtropical jet, for which the background PV gradient is quite small. The identification of the meridional transport barriers is based on the computation of finite-time Lyapunov exponents (FTLEs), which characterize the amount of stretching about fluid particle trajectories. Being composed of regular fluid particle trajectories lying on invariant tori, the meridional transport barriers are identified with topologically circular, local minimizing curves or trenches of the backward-plus-forward FTLE field. Results from explicit passive tracer advection experiments and flux computations are also presented, which are consistent with results inferred using the FTLE diagnostic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)753-767
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • Lagrangian circulation/transport
  • Mixing
  • Nonlinear dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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