Sinuous, undulating waves in the Earth’s atmosphere play a large role in driving the weather patterns on our planet. A new study now describes how similar motion can govern the behavior of the Sun — and what we stand to learn from it.
Seeing the Future
Visualization of Rossby waves in the Earth’s northern hemisphere jet stream. See the end of the article for a video. [NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio]When you plan a sunny picnic outing for the weekend, you can thank Carl-Gustav Rossby for his role in enabling the weather forecasts you’re now able to check.
In 1939, Rossby first identified large-scale waves in the Earth’s atmosphere. These slow meanders of high-altitude winds are visible as long, persistent undulations in the jet stream that carry cells of warmer or cooler air to different regions of the planet.
Through this transport, Rossby waves are critical in driving the day-to-day weather patterns that we experience at middle and higher latitudes on our planet’s surface. Our understanding of the hydrodynamics of Rossby waves is, consequently, one of the things that enables us to make (approximate) weather predictions on timescales of roughly 14 days.
Waves Far and Wide
But Rossby ...