A region for stringent testing of the quality of reanalysis is the tropical lower stratosphere. This portion of the atmosphere is sparse in observations but displays the prominent quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) and an annual cycle, neither of which is fully understood, but which are likely coupled dynamically. We first consider the performance of three reanalyses, from NCEP/NCAR, NASA and ECMWF, against rawinsonde data in depicting the QBO and then examine the structure of the tropical lower stratosphere in NCEP and ECMWF data sets in detail.
While the annual cycle and the QBO in wind and temperature are quite successfully represented, the mean meridional circulations in NCEP and ECMWF data sets contain unusual features which may be due to the assimilation process rather than being physically based. Further, the models capture the long-term temperature fluctuations associated with volcanic eruptions, even though the physical mechanisms are not included, thus implying that the model does not mask prominent stratospheric signals in the observational data. We conclude that reanalysis offers a unique opportunity to better understand the dynamics of QBO and can be applied to climate model validation. (pdf file)