John Marshall

Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Oceanography, MIT

Coupling of Trade Winds with Ocean Circulation Damps ITCZ Shift

Coupling of Trade Winds with Ocean Circulation Damps ITCZ Shift.

(Green, B. and Marshall, J.), Journal of Climate, vol. 30, no. 12, 2017.


The position of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is sensitive to the atmosphere’s hemispheric energy balance, lying in the hemisphere most strongly heated by radiative and turbulent surface energy fluxes. This study examines how the ocean circulation, through its cross-equatorial energy transport and associated surface energy fluxes, affects the ITCZ’s response to an imposed interhemispheric heating contrast in a coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model. Shifts of the ITCZ are strongly damped owing to a robust coupling between the atmosphere’s Hadley cells and the ocean’s subtropical cells by the trade winds and their associated surface stresses. An anomalous oceanic wind-driven cross-equatorial cell transports energy across the equator, strongly offsetting the imposed heating contrast. The circulation of this cell can be described by the combination of trade wind anomalies and the meridional gradient of sea surface temperature, which sets the temperature contrast between its upper and lower branches. The ability of the wind-driven ocean circulation to damp ITCZ shifts represents a previously unappreciated constraint on the atmosphere’s energy budget and indicates that the position of the ITCZ may be much less sensitive to interhemispheric heating contrasts than previously thought. Climatic implications of this damping are discussed.

doi = 10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0818.1