Rapidly fluctuating wind gusts blowing over mountains and hills can create "hotspots" high in the atmosphere and significantly affect regional air temperatures. A research paper to be published this month in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Space Physics reports that the actions of such winds can create high-frequency acoustic waves and could stimulate a 1000-Kelvin [1,000-degree Celsius; 2,000-degree Fahrenheit]spike in a short period of time in the thermosphere, at an altitude of 200-300 kilometers [100-200 miles]. Such exceptional temperature increases would require continuous waves, and the heating rate would likely be diminished with intermittent winds.
Richard Walterscheid and Michael Hickey used a theoretical model of the interaction between rough terrain and wind eddies to suggest that high winds may represent a previously unknown source of acoustic waves in the environment. Ocean waves and earthquakes are known to produce similar waves, which strengthen as they propagate higher in the atmosphere. The authors speculate that the waves can heat the atmosphere at prodigious rates and could account for a large part of the unusual and unexplained high-altitude background heating seen above the mountainous landscape in parts of South America.
"We show that that the acoustic waves generated by gusty flow over rough terrain might be a significant source of heating in the upper atmosphere," Hickey says. "These mysterious so-called hotspots observed above the Andes Mountains could be explained by such acoustic wave heating."
Harvey Leifert | EurekAlert!
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