Contribution of Ocean Overturning Circulation to Tropical Rainfall Peak in the Northern Hemisphere

Frierson, Dargan M. W.; Hwang, Yen-Ting; Fučkar, Neven S.; Seager, Richard; Kang, Sarah M.; Donohoe, Aaron; Maroon, Elizabeth A.; Liu, Xiaojuan; Battisti, David S.

Rainfall in the tropics is largely focused in a narrow zonal band near the Equator, known as the intertropical convergence zone. On average, substantially more rain falls just north of the Equator. This hemispheric asymmetry in tropical rainfall has been attributed to hemispheric asymmetries in ocean temperature induced by tropical landmasses. However, the ocean meridional overturning circulation also redistributes energy, by carrying heat northwards across the Equator. Here, we use satellite observations of the Earth’s energy budget, atmospheric reanalyses and global climate model simulations to study tropical rainfall using a global energetic framework. We show that the meridional overturning circulation contributes significantly to the hemispheric asymmetry in tropical rainfall by transporting heat from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere, and thereby pushing the tropical rain band north. This northward shift in tropical precipitation is seen in global climate model simulations when ocean heat transport is included, regardless of whether continents are present or not. If the strength of the meridional overturning circulation is reduced in the future as a result of global warming, as has been suggested, precipitation patterns in the tropics could change, with potential societal consequences.


Also Published In

Nature Geoscience

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
Nature Publishing Group
Published Here
January 24, 2014