Mechanisms of forced tropical meridional energy flux change

Spencer A. Hill, Yi Ming, Isaac M. Held

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Anthropogenically forced changes to the mean and spatial pattern of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) alter tropical atmospheric meridional energy transport throughout the seasonal cycle-in total, its partitioning between the Hadley cells and eddies and, for the Hadley cells, the relative roles of the mass flux and the gross moist stability (GMS). The authors investigate this behavior using an atmospheric general circulation model forced with SST anomalies caused by either historical greenhouse gas or aerosol forcing, dividing the SST anomalies into two components: the tropicalmean SST anomaly applied uniformly and the full SST anomalies minus the tropical mean. For greenhouse gases, the polar-amplified SST spatial pattern partially negates enhanced eddy poleward energy transport driven by mean warming. Both SST components weaken winter Hadley cell circulation and alter GMS. The Northern Hemisphere-focused aerosol cooling induces northward energy flux anomalies in the deep tropics, which manifest partially via strengthened northern and weakened southern Hadley cell overturning. Aerosol-induced GMS changes also contribute to the northward energy fluxes. A simple thermodynamic scaling qualitatively captures these changes, although it performs less well for the greenhouse gas simulations. The scaling provides an explanation for the tight correlation demonstrated in previous studies between shifts in the intertropical convergence zone and crossequatorial energy fluxes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1725-1742
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Anthropogenic effects
  • Atmospheric circulation
  • Energy transport
  • Hadley circulation
  • Mass fluxes/transport
  • Meridional overturning circulation


Dive into the research topics of 'Mechanisms of forced tropical meridional energy flux change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this