Idealized simulations of the intertropical convergence zone and its multilevel flows

David S. Nolan, Scott W. Powell, Chidong Zhang, Brian E. Mapes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


A mesoscale numerical model with an idealized tropical channel environment is used to study the dynamics of intertropical convergence zones (ITCZs) and the recently identified shallow return flow (SRF) and mid-level inflow (MLI). Four idealized sea surface temperature (SST) distributions are used: a meridionally symmetric SST profile with a sharply peaked SST maximum at the equator, a similar profile with the maximum SST shifted off the equator, a cosine-shaped SST profile with zero gradient at the equator, and an idealized SST profile modeled after the observed SST of the eastern Pacific. The simulations show that both the SRF and the MLI are robust features of the ITCZ. The prior result that the SRF is a sea-breeze-like response to surface temperature gradients is further supported, whereas the MLI is caused by the upper-level maxima in diabatic heating and vertical motion. Simulations with the SST maximum at the equator generate long-lasting, convectively coupled Kelvin waves. When the SST maximum is off the equator, the meridional circulations become highly asymmetric with strong cross-equatorial flow. Tropical cyclones are frequently generated by dynamic instability of the off-equatorial ITCZs. The contributions of the multilevel circulations to regional budgets of mass, water, and moist static energy (MSE) are computed. About 10% of the total water transported into the ITCZ region is transported out by the SRF. The water transport of the MLI is minimal, but its mass and MSE transports are significant, accounting for about 1/3 of the mass and MSE entering the ITCZ region. Eddy fluxes are found to be a large component of the net vertically integrated transport of MSE out of the ITCZ.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4028-4053
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Intertropical convergence zone
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Sea surface temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Idealized simulations of the intertropical convergence zone and its multilevel flows'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this