On the spatial and temporal variability of atmospheric heat transport in a hierarchy of models

G. Messori, R. Geen, A. Czaja

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study analyzes the spatial and temporal variability of zonally integrated meridional atmospheric heat transport due to transient eddies in a hierarchy of datasets. These include a highly idealized two-layer model seeded with point geostrophic vortices, an intermediate complexity GCM, and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts interim reanalysis (ERA-Interim) data. The domain of interest is the extratropics. Both the two-layer model and the GCM display a pronounced temporal variability in the zonally integrated meridional transport, with the largest values (or pulses) of zonally integrated transport being associated with extended regions of anomalously strong local heat transport. In the two-layer model these large-scale coherent transport regions, termed “heat transport bands,” are linked to densely packed baroclinic vortex pairs and can be diagnosed as low-wavenumber streamfunction anomalies. In the GCM they are associated with both the warm and cold sectors of midlatitude weather systems. Both these features are also found in ERA-Interim: the heat transport bands match weather systems and occur primarily in the storm-track regions, which in turn correspond to planetary-scale climatological streamfunction anomalies. The authors hypothesize that the temporal variability of the zonally integrated heat transport is partly linked to oscillatory variations in the storm-track activity but also contains a background red noise component. The existence of a pronounced variability in the zonally integrated meridional heat transport can have important consequences for the interplay between midlatitude dynamics and the energy balance of the high latitudes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2163-2189
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


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