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Published April 2016 | Published + Erratum
Journal Article Open

The Equatorial Energy Balance, ITCZ Position, and Double-ITCZ Bifurcations


The intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) migrates north–south on seasonal and longer time scales. Previous studies have shown that the zonal-mean ITCZ displacement off the equator is negatively correlated with the energy flux across the equator; when the ITCZ lies in the Northern Hemisphere, energy flows southward across the equator, and vice versa. The hemisphere that exports energy across the equator is the hemisphere with more net energy input, and it is usually the warmer hemisphere. But states with a double ITCZ straddling the equator also occur, for example, seasonally over the eastern Pacific and frequently in climate models. Here it is shown how the ITCZ position is connected to the energy balance near the equator in a broad range of circumstances, including states with single and double ITCZs. Taylor expansion of the variation of the meridional energy flux around the equator leads to the conclusion that for large positive net energy input into the equatorial atmosphere, the ITCZ position depends linearly on the cross-equatorial energy flux. For small positive equatorial net energy input, the dependence of the ITCZ position on the cross-equatorial energy flux weakens to the third root. When the equatorial net energy input or its curvature become negative, a bifurcation to double-ITCZ states occurs. Simulations with an idealized aquaplanet general circulation model (GCM) confirm the quantitative adequacy of these relations. The results provide a framework for assessing and understanding causes of common climate model biases and for interpreting tropical precipitation changes, such as those evident in records of climates of the past.

Additional Information

© 2016 American Meteorological Society. Manuscript received 6 May 2015, in final form 3 August 2015. Published online 12 April 2016. This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (AGS-1049201). The idealized GCM simulations were performed on Caltech's Geological and Planetary Sciences CITerra and on ETH Zurich's EULER computing clusters. We thank Simona Bordoni and Anne Laraia for helpful discussions of drafts of this paper. We also acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme's Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling groups for producing and making available their model output, which we used in Fig. 1. For CMIP, the U.S. Department of Energy's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We also thank John Fasullo and Kevin Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research for providing the energy flux data (retrieved from https://climatedataguide.ucar.edu/climate-data/era-interim-derived-components) we used in some of the estimates in the text.

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Published - jcli-d-15-0328.1.pdf

Erratum - jcli-d-16-0514.1.pdf


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August 22, 2023
October 23, 2023