QBO Aliased Harmonics

In Chapter 12, we described the model of QBO generated by modulating the draconic (or nodal) lunar forcing with a hemispherical annual impulse that reinforces that effect. This generates the following predicted frequency response peaks:

From section 11.1.1 Harmonics

The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th peaks listed (at 2.423, 1.423, and 0.423) are readily observed in the power spectra of the QBO time-series. When the spectra are averaged over each of the time series, the precisely matched peaks emerge more cleanly above the red noise envelope — see the bottom panel in the figure below (click to expand).

Power spectra of QBO time-series — the average is calculated by normalizing the peaks at 0.423/year.
Each set of peaks is separated by a 1/year interval.

The inset shows what these harmonics provide — essentially the jagged stairstep structure of the semi-annual impulse lag integrated against the draconic modulation.

It is important to note that these harmonics are not the traditional harmonics of a high-Q resonance behavior, where the higher orders are integral multiples of the fundamental frequency — in this case at 0.423 cycles/year. Instead, these are clear substantiation of a forcing response that maintains the frequency spectrum of an input stimulus, thus excluding the possibility that the QBO behavior is a natural resonance phenomena. At best, there may be a 2nd-order response that may selectively amplify parts of the frequency spectrum.

See my latest submission to the ESD Ideas issue : ESDD – ESD Ideas: Long-period tidal forcing in geophysics – application to ENSO, QBO, and Chandler wobble (copernicus.org)

ESD Ideas article for review

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The simple idea is that tidal forces play a bigger role in geophysical behaviors than previously thought, and thus helping to explain phenomena that have frustrated scientists for decades.

The idea is simple but the non-linear math (see figure above for ENSO) requires cracking to discover the underlying patterns.

The rationale for the ESD Ideas section in the EGU Earth System Dynamics journal is to get discussion going on innovative and novel ideas. So even though this model is worked out comprehensively in Mathematical Geoenergy, it hasn’t gotten much publicity.

Complexity vs Simplicity in Geophysics

In our book Mathematical GeoEnergy, several geophysical processes are modeled — from conventional tides to ENSO. Each model fits the data applying a concise physics-derived algorithm — the key being the algorithm’s conciseness but not necessarily subjective intuitiveness.

I’ve followed Gell-Mann’s work on complexity over the years and so will try applying his qualitative effective complexity approach to characterize the simplicity of the geophysics models described in the book and on this blog.

from Deacon_Information_Complexity_Depth.pdf

Here’s a breakdown from least complex to most complex

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The SAO and Annual Disturbances

In Chapter 11 of the book Mathematical GeoEnergy, we model the QBO of equatorial stratospheric winds, but only touch on the related cycle at even higher altitudes, the semi-annual oscillation (SAO). The figure at the top of a recent post geometrically explains the difference between SAO and QBO — the basic idea is that the SAO follows the solar tide and not the lunar tide because of a lower atmospheric density at higher altitudes. Thus, the heat-based solar tide overrides the gravitational lunar+solar tide and the resulting oscillation is primarily a harmonic of the annual cycle.

Figure 1 : The SAO modeled with the GEM software fit to 1 hPa data along the equator
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Why couldn’t Lindzen figure out QBO?

Background: see Chapter 11 of the book.

In research articles published ~50 years ago, Richard Lindzen made these assertions:

“For oscillations of tidal periods, the nature of the forcing is clear”

Lindzen, Richard S. “Planetary waves on beta-planes.” Mon. Wea. Rev 95.7 (1967): 441-451.


5. Lunar semidiurnal tide

One rationale for studying tides is that they are motion systems for which we know the periods perfectly, and the forcing almost as well (this is certainly the case for gravitational tides). Thus, it is relatively easy to isolate tidal phenomena in the data, to calculate tidal responses in the atmosphere, and to compare the two. Briefly, conditions for comparing theory and observation are relatively ideal. Moreover, if theory is incapable of explaining observations for such a simple system, we may plausibly be concerned with our ability to explain more complicated systems.

Lunar tides are especially well suited to such studies since it is unlikely that lunar periods could be produced by anything other than the lunar tidal potential.

Lindzen, R.S. and Hong, S.S., 1974. “Effects of mean winds and horizontal temperature gradients on solar and lunar semidiurnal tides in the atmosphere“. Journal of the atmospheric sciences31(5), pp.1421-1446.
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Characterizing Wavetrains

In Chapter 11 and Chapter 12 of the book we characterize deterministic and stochastic variability in waves. While reviewing the presentations at last week’s EGU meeting, one study covered some of the same ground [1] and was worth a more detailed look. The distribution of stratospheric wind wave energy collected by Nastrom [2] (shown below) that we model in Chapter 11 is apparently still not completely understood.

From Mathematical Geoenergy, Chap 11
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Stratospheric Sudden Warming

Chapter 11 of the book describes a model for the QBO of stratospheric equatorial winds. The stratified layers of the atmosphere reveal different dependencies on the external forcing depending on the altitude, see Fig 1.

Figure 1 : At high altitudes, only the sun’s annual cycle impacts the stratospheric as a semi-annual oscillation (SAO). Below that the addition of the lunar nodal cycle forces the QBO. The earth itself shows a clear wobble with the lunar cycle interacting with the annual.

Well above these layers are the mesosphere, thermosphere, and ionosphere. These are studied mainly in terms of space physics instead of climate but they do show tidal interactions with behaviors such as the equatorial electrojet [1].

The behaviors known as stratospheric sudden warmings (SSW) are perhaps a link between the lower atmospheric behaviors of equatorial QBO and/or polar vortex and the much higher atmospheric behavior comprising the electrojet. Papers such as [1,2] indicate that lunar tidal effects are showing up in the SSW and that is enhancing characteristics of the electrojet. See Fig 2.

Figure 2 : During SSW events, a strong modulation of period ~14.5 days emerges, close to the lunar fortnightly period as seen in these spectrograms. Taken from ref [2] and see quote below for more info.

“Wavelet spectra of foEs during two SSW events exhibit noticeable enhanced 14.5‐day modulation, which resembles the lunar semimonthly period. In addition, simultaneous wind measurements by meteor radar also show enhancement of 14.5‐day periodic oscillation after SSW onset.”

Tang et al [2]

So the SSW plays an important role in ionospheric variations, and the lunar tidal effects emerge as the higher atmospheric density of a SSW upwelling becomes more sensitive to lunar tidal forcing. That may be related to how the QBO also shows a dependence on lunar tidal forcing due to its higher density.


  1. Siddiqui, T. A. Relationship between lunar tidal enhancements in the equatorial electrojet and stratospheric wind anomalies during stratospheric sudden warmings. (2020). Originally presented at AGU 2018 Fall Meeting
  2. Tang, Q., Zhou, C., Liu, Y. & Chen, G. Response of Sporadic E Layer to Sudden Stratospheric Warming Events Observed at Low and Middle Latitude. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics e2019JA027283 (2020).

Chandler Wobble according to Na

In Chapter 13 of the book, we have a description of the mechanism forcing the Chandler Wobble in the Earth’s rotation. As a counter to a recent GeoenergyMath post suggesting there is little consensus behind this mechanism, a recent paper by Na et al provides a foundation to understand how the lunar forcing works. 

Chandler wobble and free core nutation are two major modes of perturbation in the Earth rotation. Earth rotation status needs to be known for the coordinate conversion between celestial reference frame and terrestrial reference frame. Due mainly to the tidal torque exerted by the moon and the sun on the Earth’s equatorial bulge, the Earth undergoes precession and nutation.

Na, S.-H. et al. Chandler Wobble and Free Core Nutation: Theory and Features. Journal of Astronomy and Space Sciences 36, 11–20 (2019).
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AO, PNA, & SAM Models

In Chapter 11, we developed a general formulation based on Laplace’s Tidal Equations (LTE) to aid in the analysis of standing wave climate models, focusing on the ENSO and QBO behaviors in the book.  As a means of cross-validating this formulation, it makes sense to test the LTE model against other climate indices. So far we have extended this to PDO, AMO, NAO, and IOD, and to complete the set, in this post we will evaluate the northern latitude indices comprised of the Arctic Oscillation/Northern Annular Mode (AO/NAM) and the Pacific North America (PNA) pattern, and the southern latitude index referred to as the Southern Annular Mode (SAM). We will first evaluate AO and PNA in comparison to its close relative NAO and then SAM …

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In Chapter 11 of the book, we concentrated on the mechanism behind the QBO of stratospheric equatorial winds. In a related topic (but only briefly touched on in the book), there is interesting data from a presentation on the equatorial-only Semi-Annual Oscillation (SAO) of the upper stratosphere and lower mesosphere wind pattern [1]. The distinction between QBO and the SAO is that the QBO has a longer periodic cycle and exists at altitudes lower in the stratosphere than the SAO.

[1] T. Hirooka, T. Ohata, and N. Eguchi, “Modulation of the Semiannual Oscillation Induced by Sudden Stratospheric Warming Events,” in ISWA2016, Tokyo, Japan, 2016, p. 16.

— presentation slides from International Symposium on the Whole Atmosphere

What’s interesting at the core fundamental level is that the SAO is understood by consensus to be forced by a semi-annual cycle (a resonant condition happening to match 1/2 year is just too coincidental) whereas there is no consensus behind the mechanism behind the QBO period (the tidal connection is only available from Chapter 12). To make the mathematical connection, the following shows how the SAO draws from the QBO tidal model.

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