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Published April 19, 2016 | Published
Journal Article Open

Seasonal and Interannual Variations of the Energy Flux Equator and ITCZ. Part I: Zonally Averaged ITCZ Position


In the zonal mean, the ITCZ lies at the foot of the ascending branch of the tropical mean meridional circulation, close to where the near-surface meridional mass flux vanishes. The ITCZ also lies near the energy flux equator (EFE), where the column-integrated meridional energy flux vanishes. This latter observation makes it possible to relate the ITCZ position to the energy balance, specifically the atmospheric net energy input near the equator and the cross-equatorial energy flux. Here the validity of the resulting relations between the ITCZ position and energetic quantities is examined with reanalysis data for the years 1979–2014. In the reanalysis data, the EFE and ITCZ position indeed covary on time scales of seasons and longer. Consistent with theory, the ITCZ position is proportional to the cross-equatorial atmospheric energy flux and inversely proportional to atmospheric net energy input at the equator. Variations of the cross-equatorial energy flux dominate seasonal variations of the ITCZ position. By contrast, variations of the equatorial net energy input, driven by ocean energy uptake variations, dominate interannual variations of the ITCZ position (e.g., those associated with ENSO).

Additional Information

© 2016 American Meteorological Society. Manuscript received 23 July 2015, in final form 4 February 2016. We thank Momme Hell for his visualization advice.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023