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Zonal temperature gradients in the tropical free troposphere

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Bao,  Jiawei
Global Circulation and Climate, The Atmosphere in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Bao, J., Dixit, V., & Sherwood, S. C. (2022). Zonal temperature gradients in the tropical free troposphere. Journal of Climate, 35, 4337-4348. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-22-0145.1.


Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000B-9E30-D
Abstract
The horizontal temperature gradients in the tropical free troposphere are generally assumed to be weak. We show with ERA5 data that substantial zonal virtual temperature (Tυ) gradients persist climatologically in the tropical free troposphere and investigate their causes. The gradients change seasonally: Tυ at 500 hPa over the equatorial western Pacific Ocean (EWP) is usually much warmer (up to 3 K) than that over the equatorial central Pacific Ocean (ECP) during December–February (DJF), while the temperature differences between EWP and ECP are much smaller during June–August (JJA). During DJF, Tυ gradients over the Pacific prevail throughout the entire free troposphere, especially in the upper troposphere near 300 hPa. We find that the associated hydrostatic pressure gradients are mainly balanced by the nonlinear terms in the momentum equation, in particular via zonal wind advection. Strong zonal winds occur near the equator in boreal winter, transporting zonal momentum so as to balance the pressure gradient force. The zonal winds are due to large-scale equatorial waves, excited by a heating pattern that is relatively symmetric about the equator. In boreal summer, the large-scale equatorial waves are less active in the Pacific region due to a more asymmetric temperature pattern, so the zonal momentum advection and Tυ gradients are both much weaker. The results point to an important role of the nonlinear terms in the tropical balanced dynamics, stressing the need for an improved theoretical understanding and modeling framework of the tropical atmosphere that includes these nonlinear terms, or their net effect.