The role of the water vapor feedback in the ITCZ response to hemispherically asymmetric forcings

Spencer K. Clark, Yi Ming, Isaac M. Held, Peter J. Phillipps

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24 Scopus citations


In comprehensive and idealized general circulation models, hemispherically asymmetric forcings lead to shifts in the latitude of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). Prior studies using comprehensive GCMs (with complicated parameterizations of radiation, clouds, and convection) suggest that the water vapor feedback tends to amplify the movement of the ITCZ in response to a given hemispherically asymmetric forcing, but this effect has yet to be elucidated in isolation. This study uses an idealized moist model, coupled to a full radiative transfer code, but without clouds, to examine the role of the water vapor feedback in a targeted manner. In experiments with interactive water vapor and radiation, the ITCZ latitude shifts roughly twice as much off the equator as in cases with the water vapor field seen by the radiation code prescribed to a static hemisperically symmetric control distribution. Using energy flux equator theory for the latitude of the ITCZ, the amplification of the ITCZ shift is attributed primarily to the longwave water vapor absorption associated with the movement of the ITCZ into the warmer hemisphere, further increasing the net column heating asymmetry. Local amplification of the imposed forcing by the shortwave water vapor feedback plays a secondary role. Experiments varying the convective relaxation time, an important parameter in the convection scheme used in the idealized moist model, yield qualitatively similar results, suggesting some degree of robustness to the model physics; however, the sensitivity experiments do not preclude that more extreme modifications to the convection scheme could lead to qualitatively different behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3659-3678
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Energy budget/balance
  • Hadley circulation
  • Hydrologic cycle
  • Water vapor


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