Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Michael J. Taylor


Michael J. Taylor


Ludger Scherliess


Robert Schunk


Vincent Wickwar


Robert Gillies


Look up! Travelling over your head in the air are waves. They are present all the time in the atmosphere all over the Earth. Now imagine throwing a small rock in a pond and watching the ripples spread out around it. The same thing happens in the atmosphere except the rock is a thunderstorm, the wind blowing over a mountain, or another disturbance. As the wave (known as a gravity wave) travels upwards the thinning air allows the wave to grow larger and larger. Eventually the gravity wave gets too large – and like waves on the beach – it crashes causing whitewater or turbulence. If you are in the shallow water when the ocean wave crashes or breaks, you would feel the energy and momentum from the wave as it pushes or even knocks you over. In the atmosphere, when waves break they transfer their energy and momentum to the background wind changing its speed and even direction. This affects the circulation of the atmosphere.

These atmospheric waves are not generally visible to the naked eye but by using special instruments we can observe their effects on the wind, temperature, density, and pressure of the atmosphere. This dissertation discusses the use of a specialized camera to study gravity waves as they travel through layers of the atmosphere 50 miles above the Andes Mountains and change the temperature. First, we introduce the layers of the atmosphere, the techniques used for observing these waves, and the mathematical theory and properties of these gravity waves. We then discuss the camera, its properties, and its unique feature of acquiring temperatures in the middle layer of the atmosphere. We introduce the observatory high in the Andes Mountains and why it was selected. We will look at the nightly fluctuations (or willy-nillyness) and long-term trends from August 2009 until December 2017. We compare measurements from the camera with similar measurements obtained from a satellite taken at the same altitude and measurements from the same camera when it was used at a different location, over Hawaii. Next, we measure the amount of change in the temperature and compare it to a nearby location on the other side of the Andes Mountains. Finally, we look for a specific type of gravity wave caused by wind blowing over the mountains called a mountain wave and perform statistics of those observed events over a period of six years.

By understanding the changes in atmospheric properties caused by gravity waves we can learn more about their possible sources. By knowing their sources, we can better understand how much energy is being transported in the atmosphere, which in turn helps with better weather and climate models.

Even now –all of this is going on over your head!



Included in

Physics Commons