Equatorial Asymmetry of the East Pacific ITCZ: Observational Constraints on the Underlying Processes

Hirohiko Masunaga Hydrospheric Atmospheric Research Center, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan

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Tristan S. L’Ecuyer Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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Abstract

The equatorial asymmetry of the east Pacific intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is explored on the basis of an ocean surface heat budget analysis carried out with a variety of satellite data products. The annual mean climatology of absorbed shortwave flux exhibits a pronounced meridional asymmetry due to a reduction of insolation by high clouds in the north ITCZ. Ocean mixed layer advection has the largest, if not exclusive, effect of counteracting this shortwave-exerted asymmetry. Other heat fluxes, in particular latent heat flux, predominate over the advective heat flux in magnitude but are secondary with respect to equatorial asymmetry. The asymmetry in advective heat flux stems from a warm pool off the Central American coast and, to a lesser extent, the North Equatorial Counter Current, neither of which exist in the Southern Hemisphere. The irregular continental geography presumably comes into play by generating a warm pool north of the equator and bringing cold waters to the south in the far eastern Pacific.

In addition to the annual climatology, the north–south contrast in the seasonal cycle of surface heat flux is instrumental in sustaining the north ITCZ throughout the year. The northeast Pacific is exposed to a seasonal cycle that is considerably weaker than that in the southeast Pacific, arising from multiple causes including the finite eccentricity of the earth’s orbit and meridional gradient in mixed layer absorptivity. Simple experiments generating synthetic sea surface temperature (SST) illustrate that the muted seasonal cycle of heat flux forcing moderates the SST seasonal variability in the northeast Pacific and thus allows the north ITCZ to persist year round. Existing theories on the ITCZ asymmetry are briefly examined in light of the present findings.

Corresponding author address: Hirohiko Masunaga, Hydrospheric Atmospheric Research Center, Nagoya University, F3-1(200) Furocho Chikusa-ku, Nagoya 458-0015, Japan. Email: masunaga@hyarc.nagoya-u.ac.jp

Abstract

The equatorial asymmetry of the east Pacific intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is explored on the basis of an ocean surface heat budget analysis carried out with a variety of satellite data products. The annual mean climatology of absorbed shortwave flux exhibits a pronounced meridional asymmetry due to a reduction of insolation by high clouds in the north ITCZ. Ocean mixed layer advection has the largest, if not exclusive, effect of counteracting this shortwave-exerted asymmetry. Other heat fluxes, in particular latent heat flux, predominate over the advective heat flux in magnitude but are secondary with respect to equatorial asymmetry. The asymmetry in advective heat flux stems from a warm pool off the Central American coast and, to a lesser extent, the North Equatorial Counter Current, neither of which exist in the Southern Hemisphere. The irregular continental geography presumably comes into play by generating a warm pool north of the equator and bringing cold waters to the south in the far eastern Pacific.

In addition to the annual climatology, the north–south contrast in the seasonal cycle of surface heat flux is instrumental in sustaining the north ITCZ throughout the year. The northeast Pacific is exposed to a seasonal cycle that is considerably weaker than that in the southeast Pacific, arising from multiple causes including the finite eccentricity of the earth’s orbit and meridional gradient in mixed layer absorptivity. Simple experiments generating synthetic sea surface temperature (SST) illustrate that the muted seasonal cycle of heat flux forcing moderates the SST seasonal variability in the northeast Pacific and thus allows the north ITCZ to persist year round. Existing theories on the ITCZ asymmetry are briefly examined in light of the present findings.

Corresponding author address: Hirohiko Masunaga, Hydrospheric Atmospheric Research Center, Nagoya University, F3-1(200) Furocho Chikusa-ku, Nagoya 458-0015, Japan. Email: masunaga@hyarc.nagoya-u.ac.jp

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