On the Annual Variation in Height of the Tropical Tropopause

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  • 1 Aeronomy Laboratory, NOAA, Boulder, CO 80303
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Abstract

The existence of an annual variation in height and temperature of the tropopause over tropical regions has long been recognized, but has not been fully explained. In this paper it is proposed that the variation is a fairly direct response to the annual variation in average tropical surface insolation. The variation in insolation causes a corresponding annual cycle in average tropical sea surface temperature with a total range of order 1 K. The consequent variation in absolute humidity in turn produces an annual variation in upper tropospheric potential temperatures, and hence in the height and temperature of the tropopause.

The physical link between the surface and the tropopause is provided by convection in the cores of the giant cumulonimbus clouds (hot towers) of the tropical oceanic regions, in which air parcels can achieve the maximum possible heating by release of latent heat. The process is modeled quantitatively in a simplified way, and excellent agreement is found between the predicted and observed phase and amplitude of the annual variation in tropopause potential temperature.

Since the regular seasonal variation in insolation is relatively small in the tropics, the annual variation in sun-earth distance is an important factor in the variation of surface insolation. The annual cycle in the properties of the tropical tropopause thus provides the first identifiable effect of the earth's orbital eccentricity on climate parameters.

Abstract

The existence of an annual variation in height and temperature of the tropopause over tropical regions has long been recognized, but has not been fully explained. In this paper it is proposed that the variation is a fairly direct response to the annual variation in average tropical surface insolation. The variation in insolation causes a corresponding annual cycle in average tropical sea surface temperature with a total range of order 1 K. The consequent variation in absolute humidity in turn produces an annual variation in upper tropospheric potential temperatures, and hence in the height and temperature of the tropopause.

The physical link between the surface and the tropopause is provided by convection in the cores of the giant cumulonimbus clouds (hot towers) of the tropical oceanic regions, in which air parcels can achieve the maximum possible heating by release of latent heat. The process is modeled quantitatively in a simplified way, and excellent agreement is found between the predicted and observed phase and amplitude of the annual variation in tropopause potential temperature.

Since the regular seasonal variation in insolation is relatively small in the tropics, the annual variation in sun-earth distance is an important factor in the variation of surface insolation. The annual cycle in the properties of the tropical tropopause thus provides the first identifiable effect of the earth's orbital eccentricity on climate parameters.

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