Moisture–convection feedback in the tropics



This paper discusses the large-scale moisture–convection feedback in the tropics, where spatial fluctuations of deep convection cause perturbations of free-tropospheric moisture which, in turn, affect the spatial distribution of deep convection. A simple heuristic argument using the timescale of free-tropospheric humidity change explains why moisture–convection feedback is particularly relevant for tropical intraseasonal oscillations.

The large-scale dynamical context for moisture–convection feedback is investigated in idealized rotating constant-sea-surface-temperature (‘tropics everywhere’) aquaplanet using cloud-resolving convection parametrization (CRCP; super-parametrization) and a traditional convective parametrization (the Emanuel scheme). The large-scale organization of convection within the equatorial waveguide takes the form of MJO-like (Madden–Julian Oscillation) coherent structures. First, CRCP simulations are performed in which development of large-scale free-tropospheric moisture perturbations is artificially suppressed using relaxation with a timescale of one day. As in previous simulations where much shorter relaxation timescale was used, MJO-like coherences do not develop and, if already present, they disintegrate rapidly. Second, CRCP simulations that start from planetary-scale moisture perturbation in the free troposphere are conducted. The ensuing large-scale velocity perturbations have e-folding times of five and seven days, respectively, for interactive and prescribed radiation simulations. This supports the conjecture that interactive radiation enhances moisture–convection feedback; an enhanced large-scale circulation results from differences in radiative cooling between areas having enhanced and suppressed convectively-generated moisture and cloudiness. Additional support for the role of moisture–convection feedback in intraseasonal oscillations is seen in simulations that apply the Emanuel scheme. The standard configuration of the Emanuel scheme is insensitive to free-tropospheric humidity and results in weak MJO-like coherences. A simple modification of the Emanuel scheme that enhances its sensitivity to free-tropospheric humidity dramatically improves the simulated MJO-like coherences. Copyright © 2004 Royal Meteorological Society