Meridional propagation of large-scale monsoon convective zones

Srinivasan, J. ; Gadgil, S. ; Webster, P. J. (1993) Meridional propagation of large-scale monsoon convective zones Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics, 52 (1-2). pp. 15-35. ISSN 0177-7971

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Observational studies indicate that the convective activity of the monsoon systems undergo intraseasonal variations with multi-week time scales. The zone of maximum monsoon convection exhibits substantial transient behavior with successive propagating from the North Indian Ocean to the heated continent. Over South Asia the zone achieves its maximum intensity. These propagations may extend over 3000 km in latitude and perhaps twice the distance in longitude and remain as coherent entities for periods greater than 2-3 weeks. Attempts to explain this phenomena using simple ocean-atmosphere models of the monsoon system had concluded that the interactive ground hydrology so modifies the total heating of the atmosphere that a steady state solution is not possible, thus promoting lateral propagation. That is, the ground hydrology forces the total heating of the atmosphere and the vertical velocity to be slightly out of phase, causing a migration of the convection towards the region of maximum heating. Whereas the lateral scale of the variations produced by the Webster (1983) model were essentially correct, they occurred at twice the frequency of the observed events and were formed near the coastal margin, rather than over the ocean. Webster's (1983) model used to pose the theories was deficient in a number of aspects. Particularly, both the ground moisture content and the thermal inertia of the model were severely underestimated. At the same time, the sea surface temperatures produced by the model between the equator and the model's land-sea boundary were far too cool. Both the atmosphere and the ocean model were modified to include a better hydrological cycle and ocean structure. The convective events produced by the modified model possessed the observed frequency and were generated well south of the coastline. The improved simulation of monsoon variability allowed the hydrological cycle feedback to be generalized. It was found that monsoon variability was constrained to lie within the bounds of a positive gradient of aconvective intensity potential (I). The function depends primarily on the surface temperature, the availability of moisture and the stability of the lower atmosphere which varies very slowly on the time scale of months. The oscillations of the monsoon perturb the mean convective intensity potential causing local enhancements of the gradient. These perturbations are caused by the hydrological feedbacks, discussed above, or by the modification of the air-sea fluxes caused by variations of the low level wind during convective events. The final result is the slow northward propagation of convection within an even slower convective regime. The ECMWF analyses show very similar behavior of the convective intensity potential. Although it is considered premature to use the model to conduct simulations of the African monsoon system, the ECMWF analysis indicates similar behavior in the convective intensity potential suggesting, at least, that the same processes control the low frequency structure of the African monsoon. The implications of the hypotheses on numerical weather prediction of monsoon phenomenon are discussed.

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