Articles | Volume 26, issue 12
02 Dec 2008
 | 02 Dec 2008

Gravity wave penetration into the thermosphere: sensitivity to solar cycle variations and mean winds

D. C. Fritts and S. L. Vadas

Abstract. We previously considered various aspects of gravity wave penetration and effects at mesospheric and thermospheric altitudes, including propagation, viscous effects on wave structure, characteristics, and damping, local body forcing, responses to solar cycle temperature variations, and filtering by mean winds. Several of these efforts focused on gravity waves arising from deep convection or in situ body forcing accompanying wave dissipation. Here we generalize these results to a broad range of gravity wave phase speeds, spatial scales, and intrinsic frequencies in order to address all of the major gravity wave sources in the lower atmosphere potentially impacting the thermosphere. We show how penetration altitudes depend on gravity wave phase speed, horizontal and vertical wavelengths, and observed frequencies for a range of thermospheric temperatures spanning realistic solar conditions and winds spanning reasonable mean and tidal amplitudes. Our results emphasize that independent of gravity wave source, thermospheric temperature, and filtering conditions, those gravity waves that penetrate to the highest altitudes have increasing vertical wavelengths and decreasing intrinsic frequencies with increasing altitude. The spatial scales at the highest altitudes at which gravity wave perturbations are observed are inevitably horizontal wavelengths of ~150 to 1000 km and vertical wavelengths of ~150 to 500 km or more, with the larger horizontal scales only becoming important for the stronger Doppler-shifting conditions. Observed and intrinsic periods are typically ~10 to 60 min and ~10 to 30 min, respectively, with the intrinsic periods shorter at the highest altitudes because of preferential penetration of GWs that are up-shifted in frequency by thermospheric winds.