Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics

, Volume 44, Issue 1–4, pp 101–117 | Cite as

Some dynamical properties of idealized thermally-forced meridional circulations in the tropics

  • J. J. Hack
  • W. H. Schubert


Through the use of a zonal balance model we investigate the properties of the tropical meridional circulation to a range of specified diabatic forcing fields for climatologically observed zonal winds. As in earlier studies, the solutions show that latent heat release away from the equator forces an asymmetric meridional circulation in response the anisotropy in the inertial stability parameter with respect to the meridional location of the forcing. The presence of strong zonal flows appears to play a relatively minor role in determining the magnitude and asymmetry of the meridional circulation, whereas the structure of the diabatic heating, particularly the meridional breadth, proves to be of much greater importance.

A dynamic efficiency factor, which provides an analytic measure of the efficacy of diabatic heating at generating zonal kinetic energy, generally exhibits a meridionally symmetric structure except during Northern Hemisphere summer. This asymmetry gives rise to a pronounced sensitivity of zonal kinetic energy generation to the meridional location of ITCZ convection. Further examination of the flow pattern suggests that for zonal flows representative of those over the Indian Ocean during the Northern Hemisphere summer months, meridional displacements of the heating of less than 20° latitude can result in as much as an order of magnitude difference in the rate of kinetic energy generation. Solution of the balance system also implies the existence of a feedback mechanism, between zonally-organized convection and the energetics properties of the large-scale flow, that is highly sensitive to the meridional location of the convection.


Heat Release Zonal Wind Zonal Flow Meridional Circulation Diabatic Heating 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. J. Hack
    • 1
  • W. H. Schubert
    • 2
  1. 1.National Center for Atmospheric ResearchBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Colorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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