Bi-modal structure and variability of large-scale diabatic heating in the tropics

Chidong Zhang, Samson M. Hagos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Tropical diabatic heating profiles estimated using sounding data from eight field campaigns were diagnosed to document their common and prevailing structure and variability that are relevant to the large-scale circulation. The first two modes of a rotated empirical orthogonal function analysis-one deep, one shallow-explain 85% of the total variance of all data combined. These two modes were used to describe the heating evolution, which led to three composited heating profiles that are considered as prevailing large-scale heating structures. They are, respectively, shallow, bottom heavy (peak near 700 hPa); deep, middle heavy (peak near 400 hPa); and stratiform-like, top heavy (heating peak near 400 hPa and cooling peak near 700 hPa). The amplitudes and occurrence frequencies of the shallow, bottom-heavy heating profiles are comparable to those of the stratiform-like, top-heavy ones. The sequence of the most probable heating evolution is deep tropospheric cooling to bottom-heavy heating, to middle heavy heating, to stratiform-like heating, then back to deep tropospheric cooling. This heating transition appears to occur on different time scales. Each of the prevailing heating structures is interpreted as being composed of particular fractional populations of various types of precipitating cloud systems, which are viewed as the building blocks for the mean. A linear balanced model forced by the three prevailing heating profiles produces rich vertical structures in the circulation with multiple overturning cells, whose corresponding moisture convergence and surface wind fields are very sensitive to the heating structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3621-3640
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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