What is a Rossby wave?

​Rossby waves naturally occur in rotating fluids. Within the Earth's ocean and atmosphere, these planetary waves play a significant role in shaping weather. This animation from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center shows both long and short atmospheric waves as indicated by the jet stream. The colors represent the speed of the wind ranging from slowest (light blue colors) to fastest (dark red).

Oceanic and atmospheric Rossby waves — also known as planetary waves — naturally occur largely due to the Earth’s rotation. These waves affect the planet’s weather and climate. Waves in the ocean come in many different shapes and sizes. Slow-moving oceanic Rossby waves are are fundamentally different from ocean surface waves. Unlike waves that break along the shore, Rossby waves are huge, undulating movements of the ocean that stretch horizontally across the planet for hundreds of kilometers in a westward direction. They are so large and massive that they can change Earth’s climate conditions. Along with rising sea levels, King Tides, and the effects of El Niño, oceanic Rossby waves contribute to high tides and coastal flooding in some regions of the world.

About this image: Rossby waves naturally occur in rotating fluids. Within the Earth’s ocean and atmosphere, these planetary waves play a significant role in shaping weather. This animation from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center shows both long and short atmospheric waves as indicated by the jet stream. The colors represent the speed of the wind ranging from slowest (light blue colors) to fastest (dark red).

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