PMC Turbo: Studying Gravity Wave and Instability Dynamics in the Summer Mesosphere Using Polar Mesospheric Cloud Imaging and Profiling From a Stratospheric Balloon

David C. Fritts, Amber D. Miller, C. Bjorn Kjellstrand, Christopher Geach, Bifford P. Williams, Bernd Kaifler, Natalie Kaifler, Glenn Jones, Markus Rapp, Michele Limon, Jason Reimuller, Ling Wang, Shaul Hanany, Sonja Gisinger, Yucheng Zhao, Gunter Stober, Cora E. Randall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The Polar Mesospheric Cloud Turbulence (PMC Turbo) experiment was designed to observe and quantify the dynamics of small-scale gravity waves (GWs) and instabilities leading to turbulence in the upper mesosphere during polar summer using instruments aboard a stratospheric balloon. The PMC Turbo scientific payload comprised seven high-resolution cameras and a Rayleigh lidar. Overlapping wide and narrow camera field of views from the balloon altitude of ~38 km enabled resolution of features extending from ~20 m to ~100 km at the PMC layer altitude of ~82 km. The Rayleigh lidar provided profiles of temperature below the PMC altitudes and of the PMCs throughout the flight. PMCs were imaged during an ~5.9-day flight from Esrange, Sweden, to Northern Canada in July 2018. These data reveal sensitivity of the PMCs and the dynamics driving their structure and variability to tropospheric weather and larger-scale GWs and tides at the PMC altitudes. Initial results reveal strong modulation of PMC presence and brightness by larger-scale waves, significant variability in the occurrence of GWs and instability dynamics on time scales of hours, and a diversity of small-scale dynamics leading to instabilities and turbulence at smaller scales. At multiple times, the overall field of view was dominated by extensive and nearly continuous GWs and instabilities at horizontal scales from ~2 to 100 km, suggesting sustained turbulence generation and persistence. At other times, GWs were less pronounced and instabilities were localized and/or weaker, but not absent. An overview of the PMC Turbo experiment motivations, scientific goals, and initial results is presented here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6423-6443
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 27 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research described here was supported under NASA and NSF grants cited in GEMS. This project also received funding from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) for construction, integration, and operation of the Rayleigh lidar and subsequent data analyses. We thank three reviewers for valuable comments on the manuscript. Access to ECMWF data was possible through the special project HALO Mission Support System. Links to data required to replicate all PMC Turbo images and other figures in this paper are available in the supporting information.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019. The Authors.


  • Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities
  • PMC imaging
  • energy deposition
  • gravity wave breaking
  • momentum fluxes


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