A mechanism for the maintenance of sharp tropical margins

Hirohiko Masunaga, Brian E. Mapes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The moist deep tropics are typically separated from the drier subtropics by a sharp horizontal gradient of moisture. The physical nature of this tropical margin is investigated by using A-Train satellite observations to reconstruct its composite mean quasi-meridional thermodynamic structure and processes. The margin is defined here as the most poleward position of a specified column water vapor (CWV) threshold along a satellite track. Multiple CWV thresholds are selected from 35 to 60 mm, bracketing the global tropics histogram minimum value of 48 mm. For all margin thresholds, CWV increases equatorward from the subtropics and eventually asymptotically approaches 48 mm far on the tropical side, apparently as a coincidence of composite averaging since values of 48 mm are infrequent as noted above. For all margin thresholds, precipitation peaks on the tropical side and then asymptotically approaches equatorward a value of 85 W m22, equal to the evaporation asymptote. For the 48-mm threshold, total diabatic forcing of the air column (radiative heating plus surface latent and sensible heat fluxes) changes sign from positive on the tropical side to negative in the subtropics, with the main contrast in radiative heating, owing principally to the longwave effect of high clouds. An analytic two-vertical-mode model of equatorward-flowing air columns is fitted from the observations to elucidate the processes in a Lagrangian column transition. The model captures key features of the composite, and suggests that a key process in the abrupt moistening at the margin is bottom-heavy ascent growing upward beneath the deep subtropical subsidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1181-1197
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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