The Tropospheric Response to Tropical and Subtropical Zonally Asymmetric Torques: Analytical and Idealized Numerical Model Results


The tropospheric response to prescribed tropical and subtropical zonally asymmetric torques, which can be considered as idealizations of vertical momentum transfers by orographic gravity waves or convection, is investigated. The linear analytical Gill model response to westward upper-tropospheric torques is compared to the response to a midtropospheric heating, which is a familiar point of reference. The response to an equatorial torque projects onto a Kelvin wave response to the east that is of opposite sign to the response to the east of the heating at upper levels. In contrast, the torque and heating both produce Rossby gyres of the same sign to the west of the forcing and the zonal-mean streamfunction responses are identical. When the forcings are shifted into the Northern Hemisphere, the streamfunction responses have opposite signs: there is upwelling in the Southern (Northern) Hemisphere in response to the torque (heating). The nonlinear response to westward torques was explored in idealized general circulation model experiments. In the absence of a large-scale meridional temperature gradient, the response to an equatorial torque was confined to the tropics and was qualitatively similar to the linear solutions. When the torque was moved into the subtropics, the vorticity budget response was similar to a downward control–type balance in the zonal mean. In the presence of a meridional temperature gradient, the response to an equatorial torque involved a poleward shift of the midlatitude tropospheric jet and Ferrel cell. The response in midlatitudes was associated with a poleward shift of the regions of horizontal eddy momentum flux convergence, which coincided with a shift in the upper-tropospheric critical line for baroclinic waves. The shift in the critical line was caused (in part) by the zonal wind response to the prescribed torque, suggesting a possible cause of the response in midlatitudes. Overall, this hierarchy of analytical and numerical results highlights robust aspects of the response to tropical and subtropical zonally asymmetric torques and represents the first step toward understanding the response in fully comprehensive general circulation models.

Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences