Idealized aquaplanet simulations of tropical cyclone activity: Significance of temperature gradients, hadley circulation, and zonal asymmetry

Gan Zhang, Levi G. Silvers, Ming Zhao, Thomas R. Knutson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Earlier studies have proposed many semiempirical relations between climate and tropical cyclone (TC) activity. To explore these relations, this study conducts idealized aquaplanet experiments using both symmetric and asymmetric sea surface temperature (SST) forcings. With zonally symmetric SST forcings that have a maximum at 108N, reducing meridional SST gradients around an Earth-like reference state leads to a weakening and southward displacement of the intertropical convergence zone. With nearly flat meridional gradients, warm-hemisphere TC numbers increase by nearly 100 times due particularly to elevated high-latitude TC activity. Reduced meridional SST gradients contribute to a poleward expansion of the tropics, which is associated with a poleward migration of the latitudes where TCs form or reach their lifetime maximum intensity. However, these changes cannot be simply attributed to the poleward expansion of Hadley circulation. Introducing zonally asymmetric SST forcings tends to decrease the global TC number. Regional SST warming-prescribed with or without SST cooling at other longitudes-affects local TC activity but does not necessarily increase TC genesis. While regional warming generally suppresses TC activity in remote regions with relatively cold SSTs, one experiment shows a surprisingly large increase of TC genesis. This increase of TC genesis over relatively cold SSTs is related to local tropospheric cooling that reduces static stability near 158N and vertical wind shear around 258N. Modeling results are discussed with scaling analyses and have implications for the application of the "convective quasi-equilibrium and weak temperature gradient" framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)877-902
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate variability
  • Cyclogenesis/cyclolysis
  • General circulation models
  • Hadley circulation
  • Tropical cyclones
  • Vortices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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