Linking hemispheric radiation budgets, ITCZ shifts, and monsoons

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 8:00 AM
David McGee1, Aaron Donohoe1, John Marshall1 and David Ferreira2, (1)Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States, (2)University of Reading, Department of Meteorology, Reading, United Kingdom
We explore the relationship between the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), hemispheric heat budgets, and monsoon strength in past climates. Modern seasonal and interannual variability in the globally-averaged position of the ITCZ (as estimated by the tropical precipitation centroid) reflects the interhemispheric heat balance, with the ITCZ’s displacement toward the warmer hemisphere directly proportional to atmospheric heat transport into the cooler hemisphere. Model simulations suggest that ITCZ shifts are likely to have obeyed the same relationship with interhemispheric heat transport in response to past changes in orbital parameters, ice sheets, and ocean circulation. This relationship implies that even small (±1 degree) shifts in the mean (annually and zonally averaged) ITCZ require large changes in hemispheric heat budgets, placing tight bounds on mean ITCZ shifts in past climates. To test this energetic argument, we use the observed relationship between mean ITCZ position and tropical sea surface temperature (SST) gradients in combination with proxy-based estimates of past SST gradients to show that mean ITCZ shifts for the mid-Holocene, Heinrich Stadial 1 and Last Glacial Maximum are not likely to have been more than 1 degree latitude from its present mean position. In exploring these results, we provide brief descriptions of the estimated radiation budgets of past climates that help demonstrate how different climate forcings change the interhemispheric heat balance and thus the ITCZ’s global-mean position.

We also address the seeming inconsistency between the small ITCZ shifts indicated by energetic constraints and the large changes in monsoon rainfall suggested by proxy data. We compare global-average and regional-scale tropical precipitation in observations and explore their responses to a variety of forcings (orbital changes, ice sheets, hosing) in models. These comparisons make clear that monsoon precipitation can change substantially even in the absence of shifts of the global-mean ITCZ, as monsoons primarily reflect zonal inhomogeneities in the atmospheric circulation and thus are not subject to the hemisphere-scale energy constraints that govern the zonal mean ITCZ.