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Karen M. Shell and Isaac M. Held

Abstract

Abrupt transitions to strongly superrotating states have been found in some idealized models of the troposphere. These transitions are thought to be caused by feedbacks between the eddy momentum flux convergence in low latitudes and the strength of the equatorial flow. The behavior of an axisymmetric shallow-water model with an applied tropical torque is studied here to determine if an abrupt transition can be realized without eddy feedbacks. The upper-tropospheric layer is relaxed to a radiative equilibrium thickness, exchanging mass and thus momentum with the nonmoving lower layer. For low values of the applied torque, the circulation is earthlike; however, for larger values, an abrupt transition to a strongly superrotating state can occur. In some cases, the system remains superrotating as the torque is subsequently decreased. A simple analytical model is used to better understand the system. The bifurcation is caused by a feedback between the applied torque and the strength of the Hadley cell. As the torque increases, the strength of the cell decreases, reducing the damping caused by momentum transfer from the lower layer.

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