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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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).


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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