Seasonal Superrotation in Earth’s Troposphere

Published in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 2022

Although Earth’s troposphere does not superrotate in the annual mean, for most of the year—from October to May—the winds of the tropical upper troposphere are westerly. We investigate this seasonal superrotation using reanalysis data and a single-layer model for the winds of the tropical upper troposphere. We characterize the temporal and spatial structures of the tropospheric superrotation, and quantify the relationships between the superrotation and the leading modes of tropical interannual variability. We also find that the strength of the superrotation has remained roughly constant over the past few decades, despite the winds of the tropical upper troposphere decelerating (becoming more easterly) in other months. We analyze the monthly zonal-mean zonal momentum budget and use numerical simulations with an axisymmetric, single-layer model of the tropical upper troposphere to study the underlying dynamics of the seasonal superrotation. Momentum flux convergence by stationary eddies accelerates the superrotation, while cross-equatorial easterly momentum transport associated with the Hadley circulation decelerates the superrotation. The seasonal modulations of these two competing factors shape the superrotation. The single-layer model is able to qualitatively reproduce the seasonal progression of the winds in the tropical upper troposphere, and highlights the northward displacement of the intertropical convergence zone in the annual mean as a key factor responsible for the annual cycle of the tropical winds.

Recommended citation: Zhang, P., & Lutsko, N. J. (2022). Seasonal Superrotation in Earth’s Troposphere, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 79(12), 3297-3314.