Shallow meridional circulations in the tropical atmosphere

Chidong Zhang, David S. Nolan, Christopher D. Thorncroft, Hanh Nguyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


A shallow meridional circulation (SMC) in the tropical atmosphere features a low-level, (e.g., 700 hPa) flow that is in the opposite direction to the boundary layer monsoon or trade wind flow and is distinct from the meridional flow above. Representations of the SMC in three global reanalyses show both similarities and astonishing discrepancies. While the SMC over West Africa appears to be the strongest, it also exists over the eastern Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans, and over the Indian subcontinent, with different strength and structure. All SMCs undergo marked seasonal cycles. The SMCs are summarized into two types: one associated with the marine ITCZ and the other with the summer monsoon. The large-scale conditions for these two types of SMCs are similar: a strong meridional gradient in surface pressure linked to surface temperature distributions and an absence of deep moist convection. The processes responsible for these conditions are different for the two types of SMCs, as are their structures relative to moist convection, associated precipitation, and deep meridional overturning circulations. It is suggested that discrepancies among the representations of the SMC in the three global reanalyses stem from different treatment of physical parameterizations, especially for cumulus convection, in the models usedfor the data assimilation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3453-3470
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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