ESA Earth Home Missions Data Products Resources Applications
EO Data Access
How to Apply
How to Access
Site Map
Frequently asked questions
Terms of use
Contact us


ERS SAR Tropical  »  Atmospheric Phenomena  »  Atmospheric Gravity Waves  >  Introduction

Atmospheric Gravity Waves

Atmospheric gravity waves, often also called internal waves, exist in layered atmospheres. They either occur as quasi-periodic waves, solitary waves or undular bores. They are often generated behind mountain ranges in which case they are called lee waves. In the steady state lee waves are stationary with respect to the terrain feature, but they are propagating relative to the mean air flow above the earth surface. Lee waves are very common in visible remote sensing imagery where they manifest themselves as wave-like cloud patterns.

However, they also can manifest themselves on the sea surface since they are associated with varying wind speed at the sea surface and thus a varying short-scale sea surface roughness.

Fig.: A linear gravity wave propagating from left to right in a three-layer atmosphere. (left) Assumed height profile of potential temperature for a stably stratified three-layer atmosphere. (middle) isolines of potential temperature (dotted lines), streamlines (dashed lines), and direction of the wind velocity fluctuations at the sea surface (arrows at the bottom). (right) Amplitudes of the wind speed fluctuations in the direction of the wave propagation and in the vertical direction as a function of height.
(Reproduced from Alpers and Stilke, 1996)


  • Alpers, W. & Stilke, G., Observation of nonlinear wave disturbance in the marine atmosphere by the synthetic aperture radar aboard the ERS 1 satellite. J. Geophys. Res., 101, No. C3, 6513-6525 (1996).
  • Christie, D.R., Long nonlinear waves in the lower atmosphere, J. Atmos. Sci., 46, 1462-1491 (1989).
  • Clark, T.L., Hauf, T. & Kuettner, J.P., Convectively forced internal gravity waves: Results from two-dimensional numerical experiments, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorology Society, 112, 899-926 (1986).
  • Crook, N.A., Trapping of low-level internal gravity waves, J. Atmos. Sci., 45, 1533-1541 (1988).
  • Drake, V.A., Solitary wave disturbances of the nocturnal boundary layer revealed by radar observations of migrating insects, Boundary Layer Meteorol., 31, 269-286 (1985).
  • Fritz, S., The significance of mountain lee waves as seen from satellite pictures, J. of Applied Meteorol., 4, 31-37 (1965).
  • Gossard, E.E., Richer, J.H. & Atlas, D., Internal waves in the atmosphere from high-resolution radar measurements, J. Geophys. Res., 75, 3523-3536 (1970).
  • Menhofer A., Smith, R.K., Reeder, M.J. & Christie, D.R., "Morning-glory" disturbances and the environment in which they propagate. J. Atm. Sci., 54, N 7, 1712-1725 (1997).
  • Mitnik, L.M., Hsu, M.-K. & Liu, C.-T., ERS-1 SAR observations of dynamic features in the southern East-China Sea. La mer, 34, 215-225 (1996).
  • Rogers, D.P., Johnson, D.W. & Friehe, C.A., The stable internal boundary layer over a coastal sea. Part II: Gravity waves and momentum balance, J. Atmos. Sci., 52, 684-696 (1995).
  • Scherhag, R., The Berlin fog waves of Oct. 1969, Berlin Weather Map, Supplement, 155/69, Free University of Berlin, Germany (1969).
  • Scorer, R.S., Theory of waves in the lee of mountains, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorology Society, 75, 41-56 (1949).
  • Seitter, K.L. & Muench, H.S., Observation of a cold front with rope cloud, Mon. Weather Rev., 113, 840-848 (1985).
  • Smith, R.K., Travelling waves and bores in the lower atmosphere: The "Morning Glory" and related phenomena, Earth Sci. Rev., 25, 267-290 (1988).
  • Thomson, R.E., Vachon, P.W. & Borstad, G.A., Airborne synthetic aperture radar imagery of atmospheric gravity waves, J. Geophys. Res., 97, 14249-14257 (1992).
  • Vachon, P.W., Johannessen, J.J. & Browne, D.P., ERS-1 SAR images of atmospheric gravity waves. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sensing, 33, 4, 1014-1025 (1995).
  • Vachon, P.W., Johannessen, O.M. & Johannessen, J.J., An ERS 1 synthetic aperture radar image of atmospheric lee waves. J. Geophys. Res., 99, No. C11, 22483-22490 (1994).
  • Zheng, Q., Yan, X.-H., Klemas, V., Ho, C.R., Kuo, N.-J. & Wang, Z., Coastal lee waves on ERS-1 SAR images. J. Geophys. Res., 103, No. C4, 7979-7993 (1998).

ERS SAR Tropical  »  Atmospheric Phenomena  »  Atmospheric Gravity Waves  >  Introduction

Keywords: ESA European Space Agency - Agence spatiale europeenne, observation de la terre, earth observation, satellite remote sensing, teledetection, geophysique, altimetrie, radar, chimique atmospherique, geophysics, altimetry, radar, atmospheric chemistry