A low-level circulation in the tropics

Ian Folkins, Stephan Andreas Fueglistaler, G. Lesins, T. Mitovski

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23 Scopus citations


Deep convective tropical systems are strongly convergent in the midtroposphere. Horizontal wind measurements from a variety of rawinsonde arrays in the equatorial Pacific and Caribbean are used to calculate the mean dynamical divergence profiles of large-scale 1000 km in diameter) in actively convecting regions. Somewhat surprisingly, the magnitude of the midtropospheric divergence calculated from these arrays is usually small. In principle, the midlevel convergence of deep convective systems could be balanced on larger scales either by a vertical variation in the radiative mass flux of the background clear sky atmosphere, or by a divergence from shallow cumuli. The vertical variation of the clear sky mass flux in the midtroposphere is small, however, so that the offsetting divergence must be supplied by shallow cumuli. On spatial scales 1000 km, the midlevel convergent inflow toward deep convection appears to be internally compensated, or "screened," by a divergent outflow from surrounding precipitating shallow convection. Deep convective systems do not induce a large-scale inflow of midlevel air toward actively convecting regions from the rest of the tropics, but instead help generate a secondary low-level circulation, in which the net downward mass flux from mesoscale and convective-scale downdrafts is balanced by a net upward mass flux from precipitating shallow cumuli. The existence of this circulation is consistent with observational evidence showing that deep and shallow convection are spatiotemporally coupled on a wide range of both spatial and temporal scales. One of the mechanisms proposed for coupling shallow convection to deep convection is the tendency for deep convection to cool the lower troposphere. The authors use radiosonde temperature profiles and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) 3B42 gridded rainfall product to argue that the distance over which deep convection cools the lower troposphere is approximately 1000 km.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1019-1034
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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