Dynamic and energetic constraints on the modality and position of the intertropical convergence zone in an aquaplanet

Ori Adam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The tropical zonal-mean precipitation distribution varies between having single or double peaks, which are associated with intertropical convergence zones (ITCZs). Here, the effect of this meridional modality on the sensitivity of the ITCZ to hemispherically asymmetric heating is studied using an idealized GCM with parameterized Ekman ocean energy transport (OET). In the idealized GCM, transitions from unimodal to bimodal distributions are driven by equatorial ocean upwelling and cooling, which inhibits equatorial precipitation. For sufficiently strong equatorial cooling, the tropical circulation bifurcates to anti-Hadley circulation in the deep tropics, with a descending branch near the equator and off-equatorial double ITCZs. The intensity and extent of the anti-Hadley circulation is limited by a negative feedback: westerly geostrophic surface wind tendency in its poleward-flowing lower branches balances the easterly stress (and hence equatorial upwelling) required for its maintenance. For weak ocean stratification, which goes along with unimodal or weak bimodal tropical precipitation distribution, OET damps shifts of the tropical precipitation centroid but amplifies shifts of precipitation peaks. For strong ocean stratification, which goes along with pronounced double ITCZs, asymmetric heating leads to relative intensification of the precipitation peak in the warming hemisphere, but negligible meridional shifts. The dynamic feedbacks of the coupled system weaken the gradient of the atmospheric energy transport (AET) near the equator. This suggests that over a wide range of climates, the ITCZ position is proportional to the cubic root of the cross-equatorial AET, as opposed to the commonly used linear relation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)527-543
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021

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  • Atmosphere
  • Coupled models
  • Energy transport
  • Hadley circulation
  • Precipitation


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