The tropical response to extratropical thermal forcing in an idealized GCM: The importance of radiative feedbacks and convective parameterization

Sarah M. Kang, Dargan M.W. Frierson, Isaac M. Held

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263 Scopus citations


The response of tropical precipitation to extratropical thermal forcing is reexamined using an idealized moist atmospheric GCM that has no water vapor or cloud feedbacks, simplifying the analysis while retaining the aquaplanet configuration coupled to a slab ocean from the authors' previous study. As in earlier studies, tropical precipitation in response to high-latitude forcing is skewed toward the warmed hemisphere. Comparisons with a comprehensive GCM in an identical aquaplanet, mixed-layer framework reveal that the tropical responses tend to be much larger in the comprehensive GCM as a result of positive cloud and water vapor feedbacks that amplify the imposed extratropical thermal forcing. The magnitude of the tropical precipitation response in the idealized model is sensitive to convection scheme parameters. This sensitivity as well as the tropical precipitation response can be understood from a simple theory with two ingredients: the changes in poleward energy fluxes are predicted using a onedimensional energy balance model and a measure of the "total gross moist stability" [δm, which is defined as the total (mean plus eddy) atmospheric energy transport per unit mass transport] of the model tropics converts the energy flux change into a mass flux and a moisture flux change. The idealized model produces a low level of compensation of about 25% between the imposed oceanic flux and the resulting response in the atmospheric energy transport in the tropics regardless of the convection scheme parameter. Because Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Atmospheric Model 2 (AM2) with prescribed clouds and water vapor exhibits a similarly low level of compensation, it is argued that roughly 25% of the compensation is dynamically controlled through eddy energy fluxes. The sensitivity of the tropical response to the convection scheme in the idealized model results from different values of δm: smaller δm leads to larger tropical precipitation changes for the same response in the energy transport.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2812-2827
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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