One of the challenging tasks in climate science is to understand the equator-to-pole temperature gradient. The poleward heat flux generated by baroclinic waves is known to be central in reducing the equator-to-pole temperature gradient from a state of radiative-convective equilibrium. However, invoking this relationship to explain the wide range of equator-to-pole temperature gradients observed in past climates is challenging because baroclinic waves tend to follow the flux-gradient relationship such that their poleward heat flux is proportional to the equator-to-pole temperature gradient and zonal available potential energy (ZAPE). With reanalysis data, the authors show the existence of poleward heat transport by planetary-scale waves that are independent of the flux-gradient relationship and baroclinic instability. This process arises from a forced tapping of atmospheric ZAPE by planetary-scale waves that are triggered by enhanced tropical convection over the Pacific warm pool region. The Rossby waves excited by this tropical convection propagate northeastward over the Pacific Ocean and constructively interfere with the climatological stationary waves at higher latitudes. During polar night, when the current warming is most rapid, the forced tapping of ZAPE by planetary-scale waves produces a substantially greater warming than that by the synoptic-scale eddy fluxes that presumably arise from baroclinic instability.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science