On small scales, the tropical atmosphere tends to be either moist or very dry. This defines two states that, on large scales, are separated by a sharp margin, well identified by the antimode of the bimodal tropical column water vapor distribution. Despite recent progress in understanding physical processes governing the spatiotemporal variability of tropical water vapor, the behavior of this margin remains elusive, and we lack a simple framework to understand the bimodality of tropical water vapor in observations. Motivated by the success of coarsening theory in explaining bimodal distributions, we leverage its methodology to relate the moisture field's spatial organization to its time evolution. This results in a new diagnostic framework for the bimodality of tropical water vapor, from which we argue that the length of the margin separating moist from dry regions should evolve toward a minimum in equilibrium. As the spatial organization of moisture is closely related to the organization of tropical convection, we hereby introduce a new convective organization index (BLW) measuring the ratio of the margin's length to the circumference of a well‐defined equilibrium shape. Using BLW, we assess the evolution of self‐aggregation in idealized cloud‐resolving simulations of radiative‐convective equilibrium and contrast it to the time evolution of the Atlantic Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in the ERA5 meteorological reanalysis product. We find that BLW successfully captures aspects of convective organization ignored by more traditional metrics, while offering a new perspective on the seasonal cycle of convective organization in the Atlantic ITCZ.
Idealized convection‐permitting simulations of radiative‐convective equilibrium have become a popular tool for understanding the physical processes leading to horizontal variability of tropical water vapor and rainfall. However, the applicability of idealized simulations to nature is still unclear given that important processes are typically neglected, such as lateral water vapor advection by extratropical intrusions, or interactive ocean coupling. Here, we exploit spectral analysis to compactly summarize the multiscale processes supporting convective aggregation. By applying this framework to high‐resolution reanalysis data and satellite observations in addition to idealized simulations, we compare convective‐aggregation processes across horizontal scales and data sets. The results affirm the validity of the radiative‐convective equilibrium simulations as an analogy to the real world. Column moist static energy tendencies share similar signs and scale selectivity in convection‐permitting models and observations: Radiation increases variance at wavelengths above 1,000 km, while advection damps variance across wavelengths, and surface fluxes mostly reduce variance between 1,000 and 10,000 km.more » « less
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Geophysical Research Letters
- Page Range / eLocation ID:
- p. 10589-10598
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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