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P. J. Tuckman
Jane Smyth
Nicholas J. Lutsko
, and
John Marshall


The intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is associated with a zonal band of strong precipitation that migrates meridionally over the seasonal cycle. Tropical precipitation also migrates zonally, such as from the South Asian monsoon in Northern Hemisphere summer (JJA) to the precipitation maximum of the west Pacific in Northern Hemisphere winter (DJF). To explore this zonal movement in the Indo-Pacific sector, we analyze the seasonal cycle of tropical precipitation using a 2D energetic framework and study idealized atmosphere–ocean simulations with and without ocean dynamics. In the observed seasonal cycle, an atmospheric energy and precipitation anomaly forms over South Asia in northern spring and summer due to heating over land. It is then advected eastward into the west Pacific in northern autumn and remains there due to interactions with the Pacific cold tongue and equatorial easterlies. We interpret this phenomenon as a “monsoonal mode,” a zonally propagating moist energy anomaly of continental and seasonal scale. To understand the behavior of the monsoonal mode, we develop and explore an analytical model in which the monsoonal mode is advected by low-level winds, is sustained by interaction with the ocean, and decays due to the free tropospheric mixing of energy.

Significance Statement

Regional concentrations of tropical precipitation, such as the South Asian monsoon, provide water to billions of people. These features have strong seasonal cycles that have typically been framed in terms of meridional shifts of precipitation following the sun’s movement. Here, we study zonal shifts of tropical precipitation over the seasonal cycle in observations and idealized simulations. We find that land–ocean contrasts trigger a monsoon with concentrated precipitation over Asia in northern summer and near-surface eastward winds carry this precipitation into the west Pacific during northern autumn in what we call a “monsoonal mode.” This concentrated precipitation remains over the west Pacific during northern winter, as further migration is impeded by the cold sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and easterly winds of the east Pacific.

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