Send to

Choose Destination
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Dec 8;112(49):E6728-35. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1508084112. Epub 2015 Nov 16.

Upper atmospheric gravity wave details revealed in nightglow satellite imagery.

Author information

Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523;
Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706;
Atmospheric and Planetary Science, Hampton University, VA 23668;
Center for Space Physics, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215;
NorthWest Research Associates/Colorado Research Associates, Boulder, CO 80301;
Jülich Supercomputing Centre, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Jülich, Germany;
Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, Satellite Department, Prague, Czech Republic.
Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523;


Gravity waves (disturbances to the density structure of the atmosphere whose restoring forces are gravity and buoyancy) comprise the principal form of energy exchange between the lower and upper atmosphere. Wave breaking drives the mean upper atmospheric circulation, determining boundary conditions to stratospheric processes, which in turn influence tropospheric weather and climate patterns on various spatial and temporal scales. Despite their recognized importance, very little is known about upper-level gravity wave characteristics. The knowledge gap is mainly due to lack of global, high-resolution observations from currently available satellite observing systems. Consequently, representations of wave-related processes in global models are crude, highly parameterized, and poorly constrained, limiting the description of various processes influenced by them. Here we highlight, through a series of examples, the unanticipated ability of the Day/Night Band (DNB) on the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership environmental satellite to resolve gravity structures near the mesopause via nightglow emissions at unprecedented subkilometric detail. On moonless nights, the Day/Night Band observations provide all-weather viewing of waves as they modulate the nightglow layer located near the mesopause (∼ 90 km above mean sea level). These waves are launched by a variety of physical mechanisms, ranging from orography to convection, intensifying fronts, and even seismic and volcanic events. Cross-referencing the Day/Night Band imagery with conventional thermal infrared imagery also available helps to discern nightglow structures and in some cases to attribute their sources. The capability stands to advance our basic understanding of a critical yet poorly constrained driver of the atmospheric circulation.


Day/Night Band; Suomi NPP; VIIRS; airglow; nocturnal observations

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center