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A Coupled Theory of Tropical Climatology: Warm Pool, Cold Tongue, and Walker Circulation

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
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Abstract

Based on results from analytic and general circulation models, the authors propose a theory for the coupled warm pool, cold tongue, and Walker circulation system. The intensity of the coupled system is determined by the coupling strength, the local equilibrium time, and latitudinal differential heating. Most importantly, this intensity is strongly regulated in the coupled system, with a saturation level that can be reached at a modest coupling strength. The saturation west–east sea surface temperature difference (and the associated Walker circulation) corresponds to about one-quarter of the latitudinal differential equilibrium temperature. This regulation is caused primarily by the decoupling of the SST gradient from a strong ocean current. The author’s estimate suggests that the present Pacific is near the saturation state. Furthermore, the much weaker Walker circulation system in the Atlantic Ocean is interpreted as being the result of the influence of the adjacent land, which is able to extend into the entire Atlantic to change the zonal distribution of the trade wind. The theory is also applied to understand the tropical climatology in coupled GCM simulations, in the Last Glacial Maximum climate, and in the global warming climate, as well as in the regulation of the tropical sea surface temperature.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Zhengyu Liu, Dept. of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1225 W. Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706-1695.

Email: znl@ocean.meteor.wisc.edu

Abstract

Based on results from analytic and general circulation models, the authors propose a theory for the coupled warm pool, cold tongue, and Walker circulation system. The intensity of the coupled system is determined by the coupling strength, the local equilibrium time, and latitudinal differential heating. Most importantly, this intensity is strongly regulated in the coupled system, with a saturation level that can be reached at a modest coupling strength. The saturation west–east sea surface temperature difference (and the associated Walker circulation) corresponds to about one-quarter of the latitudinal differential equilibrium temperature. This regulation is caused primarily by the decoupling of the SST gradient from a strong ocean current. The author’s estimate suggests that the present Pacific is near the saturation state. Furthermore, the much weaker Walker circulation system in the Atlantic Ocean is interpreted as being the result of the influence of the adjacent land, which is able to extend into the entire Atlantic to change the zonal distribution of the trade wind. The theory is also applied to understand the tropical climatology in coupled GCM simulations, in the Last Glacial Maximum climate, and in the global warming climate, as well as in the regulation of the tropical sea surface temperature.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Zhengyu Liu, Dept. of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1225 W. Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706-1695.

Email: znl@ocean.meteor.wisc.edu

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