The response of the Southern Hemisphere (SH) polar atmosphere to the tropical sea surface temperature (SST) during the 2002 winter–spring season is investigated by using a general circulation model (GCM). The SH stratospheric winter of 2002 was particularly unusual, characterized by a weaker-than-normal polar vortex during the whole season. It also registered, at the end of September, the first major warming yet observed in the SH. This event is unexpected in the SH, and it is supposed to be induced by a “precondi- tioning” of the polar vortex starting at the beginning of the winter. Atmospheric GCM experiments with prescribed SST boundary conditions are performed. The sensitivity of the Antarctic dynamics to the tropical SST of 2002 (a year characterized by an El Niño event of moderate intensity) is studied, and the uniqueness of the 2002 tropical oceanic condition is investigated through the comparison of the simulated response of the climatic system to 2002 and 1997 tropical SST (1997 being a year with a strong El Niño event). Model results highlight a primary role played by the tropical SST of 2002 in the development of the peculiar characteristics of the Antarctic dynamics during the winter months that appears to be a necessary condition for the generation of the anomalous destabilization of the polar vortex during the following spring. Results for June 2002 show a strong generation of vertically propagating waves resulting from the tropical SST that, through the perturbation of the westerly jet at middle latitudes, produces a preconditioning of the polar vortex by affecting the wave refraction index. The particular structure of the tropical SST anomalies during the winter of 2002 is thought to have influenced the subsequent preconditioning of the stratospheric vortex.
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