Multiscale variability of deep convection in relation to large-scale circulation in TOGA COARE

Shuyi S. Chen, Robert A. Houze, Brian E. Mapes

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308 Scopus citations


Deep convection over the Indo-Pacific oceanic warm pool in the Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Response Experiment (TOGA COARE) occurred in cloud clusters, which grouped together in regions favoring their occurrence. These large groups of cloud clusters produced large-scale regions of satellite-observed cold cloud-top temperature. This paper investigates the manner in which the cloud clusters were organized on time and space scales ranging from the seasonal mean pattern over the whole warm-pool region to the scale of individual cloud clusters and their relationship to the large-scale circulation and sea surface temperature (SST). The dominant convective variability was associated with the intraseasonal oscillation (ISO). A large eastward propagating ensemble of cloud clusters marked the ISO's progress. The meridional structure of the ISO was strongly affected by the seasonal cycle with a southward shift from the Northern Hemisphere in October-November to the Southern Hemisphere in January-February. The SST had an intraseasonal signal in lagged quadrature with the cold cloudiness and rainfall in COARE. The SST increased (decreased) during the convectively suppressed (active) phases of the ISO. Enhanced low-level westerly winds occurred toward the later stages of the enhanced-convection periods of the ISO, though not always centered at the equator. The strongest westerlies tended to be located between two synoptic-scale cyclonic gyres, which were often not symmetric about the equator in the low-level wind field. This asymmetry in the anomalous equatorial low-level westerlies may have different implications for the oceanic response in the coupled atmosphere-ocean system than those centered on the equator. The cyclonic gyres contained highly concentrated deep convection, and, in four cases, the gyres developed into tropical cyclones. Within the envelope marking the convectively active phase of the ISO, cloud clusters were frequently concentrated into westward-propagating disturbances with a local periodicity of ∼2 days. These 2-day disturbances have been identified in earlier spectral studies and appear to be related to westward propagating inertio-gravity waves. In COARE, they typically contained numerous cloud clusters, which underwent a distinct diurnal cycle. Most of the cloud clusters embedded in the 2-day disturbances moved westward, though some were stationary, and a few moved eastward. A cloud-cluster tracking program identified groups of clusters (time clusters) that exhibited continuity in time and space. In the most convectively active period of the ISO, the tracking program identified almost the entire ISO cloud ensemble as a long-lasting, trackable superconvective system. This observation indicates the lack of a distinct scale-separation between convection and large-scale disturbances during the most intense convective periods in COARE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1380-1409
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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