Theoretical and Computational Fluid Dynamics

, Volume 20, Issue 5, pp 501–524

Structure of tropical variability from a vertical mode perspective

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00162-006-0034-x

Cite this article as:
Peters, M.E. & Bretherton, C.S. Theor. Comput. Fluid Dyn. (2006) 20: 501. doi:10.1007/s00162-006-0034-x


A composite mesoscale precipitation event and a convectively coupled Kelvin wave produced by a diabatically accelerated cloud resolving model are compared. Special emphasis is placed on the vertical structure of density and moisture perturbations and the interaction of these perturbations with the composited dynamical fields. Both composites share the same general features, a gradual deepening and strengthening of convection followed by deep convection and a stratiform region, quite similar in character to observations and some recent idealized models. Composited frozen moist static energy (FMSE) perturbations are several times larger than virtual temperature perturbations, suggesting moisture is a dominant regulator of convection. An empirically derived two vertical mode decomposition of the dynamical and moisture fields is found to reproduce both composites quite well. The leading vertical modes of FMSE and virtual temperature variability are strongly correlated with the modes of vertical velocity variability; these correlations are strongest at near-zero time lags. Deep convection is associated with moistening in the lower and middle troposphere, while shallow convection is associated with a moist lower troposphere and dry middle and upper troposphere. To the extent that our numerical model is realistic, the empirical modal decomposition provides support for the use of two-mode idealized models for convective interaction with large-scale circulations and guidance for formulating feedbacks between convection and the thermodynamic profile in such models. The FMSE budget leads to an interpretation of the convective life-cycle as a recharge–discharge mechanism in column-integrated FMSE. The budget analysis places diabatic forcing, surface and radiative fluxes into the moist energetic framework. In particular, these fluxes are seen to prolong active convection, but play a passive role in its initiation. The modally decomposed FMSE budget highlights the dynamical importance of the second baroclinic mode in moistening the lower and middle troposphere before convective onset (recharging), and then discharging stored FMSE in the stratiform region.


Tropical meteorology Atmospheric convection Mesoscale convective system Kelvin wave 


92.60.Ek 92.60.Jq 92.60.Nv 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew E. Peters
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christopher S. Bretherton
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Applied MathematicsUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Planetary SciencesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Atmospheric Science DepartmentUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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