Climate Dynamics

, Volume 43, Issue 11, pp 3091–3104

What controls equatorial Atlantic winds in boreal spring?


    • Research Institute for Global ChangeJAMSTEC
    • Application LaboratoryJAMSTEC
  • Swadhin K. Behera
    • Research Institute for Global ChangeJAMSTEC
    • Application LaboratoryJAMSTEC
  • Takeshi Doi
    • Research Institute for Global ChangeJAMSTEC
    • Application LaboratoryJAMSTEC
  • Bunmei Taguchi
    • Earth Simulator CenterJAMSTEC
  • Yukio Masumoto
    • Research Institute for Global ChangeJAMSTEC
  • Shang-Ping Xie
    • Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of California at San Diego

DOI: 10.1007/s00382-014-2170-0

Cite this article as:
Richter, I., Behera, S.K., Doi, T. et al. Clim Dyn (2014) 43: 3091. doi:10.1007/s00382-014-2170-0


The factors controlling equatorial Atlantic winds in boreal spring are examined using both observations and general circulation model (GCM) simulations from the coupled model intercomparison phase 5. The results show that the prevailing surface easterlies flow against the attendant pressure gradient and must therefore be maintained by other terms in the momentum budget. An important contribution comes from meridional advection of zonal momentum but the dominant contribution is the vertical transport of zonal momentum from the free troposphere to the surface. This implies that surface winds are strongly influenced by conditions in the free troposphere, chiefly pressure gradients and, to a lesser extent, meridional advection. Both factors are linked to the patterns of deep convection. Applying these findings to GCM errors indicates, that, consistent with the results of previous studies, the persistent westerly surface wind bias found in most GCMs is due mostly to precipitation errors, in particular excessive precipitation south of the equator over the ocean and deficient precipitation over equatorial South America. Free tropospheric influences also dominate the interannual variability of surface winds in boreal spring. GCM experiments with prescribed climatological sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) indicate that the free tropospheric influences are mostly associated with internal atmospheric variability. Since the surface wind anomalies in boreal spring are crucial to the development of warm SST events (Atlantic Niños), the results imply that interannual variability in the region may rely far less on coupled air–sea feedbacks than is the case in the tropical Pacific.


Equatorial AtlanticSurface windsInterannual variabilityAtlantic NiñoGill modelLindzen–Nigam modelBjerknes feedbackDouble ITCZ

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014