Climate Dynamics

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 1435-1452

First online:

Global energy budget changes to high latitude North Atlantic cooling and the tropical ITCZ response

  • Ivana CvijanovicAffiliated withCentre for Ice and Climate, Niels Bohr Institute, University of CopenhagenEarth and Planetary Science, University of California Email author 
  • , John C. H. ChiangAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, University of California

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The intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) in atmospheric general circulation models (coupled to slab ocean) shift southwards in response to northern extratropical cooling. Previous studies have demonstrated the utility of diagnosing the atmospheric energy fluxes in interpreting this teleconnection. This study investigates the nature of global energy flux changes in response to North Atlantic high latitude cooling applied to the Community Atmosphere Model version 3 coupled to a slab ocean, focusing on key local and remote feedbacks that collectively act to alter the energy budget and atmospheric energy transport. We also investigate the relative roles of tropical sea surface temperature (SST) and energy flux changes in the ITCZ response to North Atlantic cooling. Using a radiative kernel technique, we quantify the effects of key feedbacks—temperature, cloud and water vapor, to the top-of-the-atmosphere radiative flux changes. The results show only partial local energy flux compensation to the initial perturbation in the high latitudes, originating from the negative temperature feedback and opposed by positive shortwave albedo and longwave water vapor feedbacks. Thus, an increase in the atmospheric energy transport to the Northern extratropics is required to close the energy budget. The additional energy flux providing this increase comes from top-of-the-atmosphere radiative flux increase over the southern tropics, primarily from cloud, temperature and longwave water vapor feedbacks, and largely as a consequence of increased deep convection. It has been previously argued that the role of tropical SST changes was secondary to the role played by the atmospheric energy flux requirements in controlling the ITCZ shifts, proposing that the SST response is a result of the surface energy budget and not a driver of the precipitation response. Using a set of idealized simulations with the fixed tropical SSTs, we demonstrate that the ITCZ shifts are not possible without the tropical SST changes and suggest that the tropical SSTs are a more suitable driver of tropical precipitation shifts compared to the atmospheric energy fluxes. In our simulations, the ITCZ shifts are influenced mainly by the local (tropical) SST forcing, apparently independent of the actual high latitude energy demand.


ITCZ shift Tropical sea surface temperatures Energy budget Radiative feedbacks