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Disentangling the effect of regional SST bias on the double-ITCZ problem

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This study investigates the causes of the double intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) bias, characterized by too northward northern Pacific ITCZ, too dry equatorial Pacific, and too zonally elongated southern Pacific rainband. While the biases within one fully coupled model GFDL CM2.1 are examined, the large-scale bias patterns are broadly common to CMIP5/6 models. We disentangle the individual contribution of regional sea surface temperature (SST) biases to the double-ITCZ bias pattern using a series of slab ocean model experiments. A previously suggested Southern Ocean warm bias effect in displacing the zonal-mean ITCZ southward is manifested in the northern Pacific ITCZ while having little contribution to the zonally elongated wet bias south of the equatorial Pacific. The excessive southern Pacific precipitation is instead induced by the warm bias along the west coast of South America. The Southern Ocean bias effect on the zonal-mean ITCZ position is diminished by the neighboring midlatitude bias of opposite sign in GFDL CM2.1. As a result, the northern extratropical cold bias turns out to be most responsible for a southward-displaced zonal-mean ITCZ. However, this southward ITCZ displacement results from the northern Pacific branch, so ironically fixing the extratropical biases only deteriorates the northern Pacific precipitation bias. Thus, we emphasize that the zonal-mean diagnostics poorly represent the spatial pattern of the tropical Pacific response. Examination of longitude-latitude structure indicates that the overall tropical precipitation bias is mostly locally driven from the tropical SST bias. While our model experiments are idealized with no ocean dynamics, the results shed light on where preferential foci should be applied in model development to improve particular features of tropical precipitation bias.

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The output from CMIP5 and CMIP6 are provided by the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling and are available at and Model and observational data used in this paper’s analysis is permanently accessible in Zenodo with the identifier

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This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) Grant (NRF-2020R1A2C210150311) funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) of South Korea. The authors are grateful to Hideaki Kawai and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments that greatly improved the manuscript.


This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) Grant (NRF-2020R1A2C210150311) funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) of South Korea.

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Correspondence to Sarah M. Kang.

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Lee, J., Kang, S.M., Kim, H. et al. Disentangling the effect of regional SST bias on the double-ITCZ problem. Clim Dyn 58, 3441–3453 (2022).

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