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Published July 2014 | Erratum + Published
Journal Article Open

Energetic Constraints on the Position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone


The intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) can shift meridionally on seasonal and longer time scales. Previous studies have shown that the latitude of the ITCZ is negatively correlated with cross-equatorial atmospheric energy transport. For example, the ITCZ shifts southward as the Northern Hemisphere cools and the northward cross-equatorial energy transport strengthens in response. It has remained unclear what controls the sensitivity of the ITCZ position to cross-equatorial energy transport and what other factors may lead to shifts of the ITCZ position. Here it is shown that the sensitivity of the ITCZ position to cross-equatorial energy transport depends on the net energy input to the equatorial atmosphere: the net radiative energy input minus any energy uptake by the oceans. Changes in this energy input can also lead to ITCZ shifts. The cross-equatorial energy transport is related through a series of approximations to interhemispheric asymmetries in the near-surface temperature distribution. The resulting theory of the ITCZ position is tested in idealized general circulation model simulations with a slab ocean as lower boundary condition. In the simulations, cross-equatorial energy transport increases under global warming (primarily because extratropical latent energy fluxes strengthen), and this shifts the ITCZ poleward. The ITCZ shifts equatorward if primarily the tropics warm in response to an increased net energy input to the equatorial atmosphere. The results have implications for explaining the varied response of the ITCZ to global or primarily tropical changes in the atmospheric energy balance, such as those that occur under global warming or El Niño.

Additional Information

© 2014 American Meteorological Society. Received: October 22, 2013; Final Form: March 12, 2014. We thank Gerald Haug for stimulating discussions during the course of this research and Simona Bordoni and Robert Wills for helpful comments on drafts of the paper. Comments by two anonymous reviewers greatly helped to improve the quality of this paper. This work was supported by NSF Grants AGS-1019211, AGS-1049201, and AGS-1003614. Idealized GCM simulations were performed on Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Science CITerra computing cluster.

Attached Files

Published - jcli-d-13-00650.1.pdf

Erratum - jcli-d-17-0784.1.pdf


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August 20, 2023
October 20, 2023