21st Conference on Climate Variability and Change


The dynamic warm pool: A new paradigm for understanding the role of the tropics in the global heat balance

Peter J. Webster, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA; and C. D. Hoyos

The region of atmospheric heating in the tropics, here termed the dynamic warm pool, represents the “boiler box” of the planetary heat engine and plays a determining role in global climate and tropical weather variability, modulating the genesis and intensification of tropical cyclones, the ascending branches of the Walker and Hadley circulations, monsoons and ENSO variability, and the nature of global teleconnections emanating from the tropics. Hence, it is important to understand how the tropical warm pool has changed in the past and how it may change in the future, and how these changes may alter climate both regionally and globally. The concept of the dynamic warm pool, which encloses the region of net atmospheric convective heating in the tropics, is fundamentally different to the traditionally defined oceanic warm pool corresponding to the area occupied by sea surface temperatures above a pre-defined threshold, typically 28ºC. While the traditionally defined warm pool has expanded as a result of global warming, the dynamical warm pool has remained constant as a result of an increasing column integrated heating-sea surface temperature threshold. In other words, in a warming climate the convective area does not expand with the area of SST>28ºC. However, despite the near constancy of the dynamic warm pool area, the magnitude of the column integrated heating in the tropics increases substantially. In light of these results, the traditional warm pool definition and the thresholds for convection and cyclogenesis are not climatically meaningful and lack a physical basis. Rather than a static definition set by a constant temperature, the climatically active warm pool should be defined dynamically by the large-scale coupled ocean-atmosphere system rather than just by the temperature of the ocean surface. In this work we use the concept of the dynamical warm pool as a physical basis to explore and understand long-term variability of tropical cyclogenesis and extratropical storms, global atmospheric circulation and teleconnections, and monsoon variability. We also explore past changes of the dynamical warm pool and its implications for understanding paleo-climate variability. In addition we explore the tropical interannual contrast between over-land and over-ocean atmospheric heating.

wrf recording  Recorded presentation

Session 7B, Tropical cyclones
Tuesday, 13 January 2009, 3:30 PM-5:30 PM, Room 129B

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