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Kristofer Döös and Johan Nilsson


The atmospheric meridional overturning circulation is computed using the interim European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim) data. Meridional mass transport streamfunctions are calculated not only using pressure as a vertical coordinate but also using temperature, specific humidity, and geopotential height as generalized vertical coordinates. Moreover, mass transport streamfunctions are calculated using the latent, the dry static, or the moist static energy as generalized vertical coordinates. The total meridional energy transport can be obtained by integrating these streamfunctions “vertically” over their entire energy range. The time-averaged mass transport streamfunctions are also decomposed into mean-flow and eddy-induced components. The meridional mass transport streamfunctions with temperature and specific humidity as independent variables yield a two-cell structure with a tropical Hadley-like cell and a pronounced extratropical Ferrel-like cell, which carries warm and moist air poleward. These Ferrel-like cells are much stronger than the Eulerian zonal-mean Ferrel cell, a feature that can be understood by considering the residual circulation related to specific humidity or temperature. Regardless of the generalized vertical coordinate, the present meridional mass transport streamfunctions yield essentially a two-layer structure with one poleward and one equatorward branch. The strongest meridional overturning in the midlatitudes is obtained when the specific humidity or the moist static energy is used as the vertical coordinate, indicating that the specific humidity is the variable that best distinguishes between poleward- and equatorward-moving air in the lower troposphere.

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Adam H. Sobel, Johan Nilsson, and Lorenzo M. Polvani


Horizontal temperature gradients are small in the tropical atmosphere, as a consequence of the smallness of the Coriolis parameter near the equator. This provides a strong constraint on both large-scale fluid dynamics and diabatic processes. This work is a step toward the construction of a balanced dynamical theory for the tropical circulation that is based on this constraint, and in which the diabatic processes are explicit and interactive.

The authors first derive the basic fluid-dynamical scaling under the weak temperature gradient (WTG) approximation in a shallow water system with a fixed mass source representing an externally imposed heating. This derivation follows an earlier similar one by Held and Hoskins, but extends the analysis to the nonlinear case (though on an f plane), examines the resulting system in more detail, and presents a solution for an axisymmetric “top-hat” forcing. The system is truly balanced, having no gravity waves, but is different from other balance models in that the heating is included a priori in the scaling.

The WTG scaling is then applied to a linear moist model in which the convective heating is controlled by a moisture variable that is advected by the flow. This moist model is derived from the Quasi-equilibrium Tropical Circulation Model (QTCM) equations of Neelin and Zeng but can be viewed as somewhat more general. A number of additional approximations are made in order to consider balanced dynamical modes, apparently not studied previously, which owe their existence to interactions of the moisture and flow fields. A particularly interesting mode arises on an f plane with a constant background moisture gradient. In the limit of low frequency and zero meridional wavenumber this mode has a dispersion relation mathematically identical to that of a barotropic Rossby wave, though the phase speed is eastward (for moisture decreasing poleward in the background state) and the propagation mechanism is quite different. This mode also has significant positive growth rate for low wavenumbers. The addition of the β effect complicates matters. For typical parameters, when β is included the direction of phase propagation is ambiguous, and the growth rate reduced, as the effects of the background gradients in moisture and planetary vorticity appear to cancel to a large degree. Possible relevance to intraseasonal variability and easterly wave dynamics is briefly discussed.

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Marcus Löfverström, Rodrigo Caballero, Johan Nilsson, and Gabriele Messori


Current estimates of the height of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) range from around 3000 to 4500 m. Modeling studies of the LGM, using low-end estimates of the LIS height, show a relatively weak and northeastward-tilted winter jet in the North Atlantic, similar to the modern jet, while simulations with high-end LIS elevations show a much more intense and zonally oriented jet. Here, an explanation for this response of the Atlantic circulation is sought using a sequence of LGM simulations spanning a broad range of LIS elevations. It is found that increasing LIS height favors planetary wave breaking and nonlinear reflection in the subtropical North Atlantic. For high LIS elevations, planetary wave reflection becomes sufficiently prevalent that a poleward-directed flux of wave activity appears in the climatology over the midlatitude North Atlantic. This entails a zonalization of the stationary wave phase lines and thus of the midlatitude jet.

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