A model investigation of Aerosol-Induced changes in tropical circulation

Yi Ming, V. Ramaswamy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


This study investigates how anthropogenic aerosols, alone or in conjunction with radiatively active gases, affect the tropical circulation with an atmosphere/mixed layer-ocean general circulation model. Aerosol-induced cooling gives rise to a substantial increase in the overall strength of the tropical circulation, a robust outcome consistent with a thermodynamical scaling argument. Owing to the interhemispheric asymmetry in aerosol forcing, the zonal-mean (Hadley) and zonally asymmetrical components of the tropical circulation respond differently. The Hadley circulation weakens in the Northern Hemisphere but strengthens in the Southern Hemisphere. The resulting northward cross-equatorial moist static energy flux compensates partly for the aerosol radiative cooling in the Northern Hemisphere. In contrast, the less restricted zonally asymmetrical circulation does not show sensitivity to the spatial structure of aerosols and strengthens in both hemispheres. The results also point to the possible role of aerosols in driving the observed reduction in the equatorial sea level pressure gradient. These circulation changes have profound implications for the hydrological cycle. Aerosols alone make the subtropical dry zones in both hemispheres wetter, as the local hydrological response is controlled thermodynamically by atmospheric moisture content. The deep tropical rainfall undergoes a dynamically induced southward shift, a robust pattern consistent with the adjustments in the zonal-mean circulation and in the meridional moist static energy transport. Less certain is the magnitude of the shift. The nonlinearity exhibited by the combined hydrological response to aerosols and radiatively active gases is dynamical in nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5125-5133
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Aerosols/particulates
  • Anthropogenic effects
  • General circulation models
  • Hydrologic cycle
  • Tropics


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