Diurnal circulation adjustment and organized deep convection

James H. Ruppert, Cathy Hohenegger

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48 Scopus citations


This study investigates the diurnal cycle of tropical organized deep convection and the feedback in large-scale circulation. By considering gravity wave phase speeds, we find that the circulation adjustment into weak temperature gradient (WTG) balance occurs rapidly (<6 h) relative to diurnal diabatic forcing on the spatial scales typical of organized convection (≤500 km). Convection-permitting numerical simulations of self-aggregation in diurnal radiative-convective equilibrium (RCE) are conducted to explore this further. These simulations depict a pronounced diurnal cycle of circulation linked to organized convection, which indeed maintains WTG balance to first order. A set of sensitivity experiments is conducted to assess what governs the diurnal cycle of organized convection. We find that the "direct radiation-convection interaction" (or lapse-rate) mechanism is of primary importance for diurnal precipitation range, while the "dynamic cloudy-clear differential radiation" mechanism amplifies the range by approximately 30%, and delays the nocturnal precipitation peak by around 5 h. The differential radiation mechanism therefore explains the tendency for tropical heavy rainfall to peak in the early morning, while the lapse-rate mechanism primarily governs diurnal amplitude. The diurnal evolution of circulation can be understood as follows. While nocturnal deep convection invigorated by cloud-top cooling (i.e., the lapse-rate mechanism) leads to strong bottom-heavy circulation at nighttime, the localized (i.e., differential) top-heavy shortwave warming in the convective region invigorates circulation at upper levels in daytime. A diurnal evolution of the circulation therefore arises, from bottom heavy at nighttime to top heavy in daytime, in a qualitatively consistent manner with the observed diurnal pulsing of the Hadley cell driven by the ITCZ.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4899-4916
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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