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Chih-Pei Chang
Mong-Ming Lu
, and
Hock Lim


The Asian monsoon is a planetary-scale circulation system powered by the release of latent heat, but important features of deep convection and rainfall distribution cannot be adequately represented by the large-scale patterns. This is mainly due to the strong influences of terrain that are important across a wide range of horizontal scales, especially over the Maritime Continent where the complex terrain has a dominant effect on the behavior of convective rainfall during the boreal winter monsoon. This chapter is a review and summary of published results on the effects on monsoon convection due to interactions between the Maritime Continent terrain and large-scale transient systems.

The Maritime Continent topographic features strongly affect both the demarcation of the boreal summer and winter monsoon regimes and the asymmetric seasonal marches during the transition seasons. In the western part of the region, the complex interactions that lead to variability in deep convection are primarily controlled by the cold surges and the synoptic-scale Borneo vortex. The Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) reduces the frequency of weaker surges through an interference with their structure. It also influences convection, particularly on the diurnal cycle and when synoptic activities are weak. When both surges and the Borneo vortex are present, interactions between these circulations with the terrain can cause the strongest convection, which has included Typhoon Vamei (2001), which is the only observed tropical cyclone that developed within 1.5° of the equator.

The cold surges are driven by midlatitude pressure rises associated with the movement of the Siberian high. Rapid strengthening of surge northeasterly winds can be explained as the tropical response via a geostrophic adjustment process to the pressure forcing in the form of an equatorial Rossby wave group. Dispersion of meridional modes leads to a northeast–southwest orientation that allows the surge to stream downstream through the similarly oriented South China Sea. This evolution leads to a cross-equatorial return flow and a cyclonic circulation at the equator, and thus a mechanism for equatorial cyclogenesis. Although the narrow width of the southern South China Sea facilitates strengthening of the cold surge, it also severely restricts the likelihood of cyclone development so that Vamei remains to be the only typhoon observed in the equatorial South China Sea.

Climate variations from El Niño–Southern Oscillation to climate change may impact the interactions between the large-scale motion and Maritime Continent terrain because they lead to changes in the mean flow. The thermodynamic effects on the interaction between MJO and the monsoon surges and Borneo vortex over the complex terrain also need to be addressed. These and other questions such as any possible changes in the likelihood of equatorial tropical cyclogenesis as a result of climate change are all important areas for future research.

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