J. Atmos. Sci., 50, 260-284

A Simple Tropical Atmosphere Model of Relevance to Short-Term Climate Variations

Bin WANG and Tianming LI
Department of Meteorology, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology
University of a Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

(Manuscript received 5 November 1991, in final form 15 April 1992) ABSTRACT


The tropical atmosphere model presented here is suitable for modeling both the annual cycle and short-term (monthly to decadal time scale) climate fluctuations in sole response to the thermal forcing from the underlying surface, especially the ocean surface. The present model consists of a well-mixed planetary boundary layer and a free troposphere represented by the gravest baroclinic mode. The model dynamics involves active interactions between the boundary-layer flow driven by the momentum forcing associated with the sea surface temperature (SST) gradient and the free tropospheric flow stimulated by diabatic heating that is controlled by the thermal effects of SST. This process is demonstrated to be essential for modeling Pacific basinwide low-level circulations. The convective heating is parameterized by a SST-dependent conditional heating scheme based upon the proposition that the potential convection instability increases with SST in a nonlinear fashion.

The present model integrates the virtue of a Gille-type model with that of a Lindzen-Nigam model and is capable of reproducing both the shallow intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) in the boundary layer and the deep South Pacific convergence zone (SPCZ) and monsoon troughs in the lower troposphere. The precipitation pattern and intensity, the trade winds and associated subtropical highs, and the near-equatorial trough can also be simulated reasonably well.

The thermal contrast between oceans and continents is shown to have a profound influence on the circulation near landmasses. Changes in land surface temperature, however, do not exert significant influence on remote oceanic regions. Both the ITCZ and SPCZ primarily originate from the inhomogeneity of ocean surface thermal conditions. The continents of South and North America contribute to the formation of these oceanic convergence zones through indirect boundary effects that support coastal upwelling changing the SST distribution. The diagnosis of observed surface wind and pressure fields indicates that the nonlinear advection of momentum is generally negligible, even near the equator, in the boundary-layer momentum balance. The large SST gradients in the subtropics play an important role in forcing rotational and cross-isobaric winds.

Back to top | Back to menu