Total poleward atmospheric heat transport (AHT) is similar in both magnitude and latitudinal structure between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. These similarities occur despite more major mountain ranges in the Northern Hemisphere, which help create substantial stationary eddy AHT that is largely absent in the Southern Hemisphere. However, this hemispheric difference in stationary eddy AHT is compensated by hemispheric differences in other dynamic components of AHT so that total AHT is similar between hemispheres. To understand how AHT compensation occurs, we add midlatitude mountain ranges in two different general circulation models that are otherwise configured as aquaplanets. Even when midlatitude mountains are introduced, total AHT is nearly invariant. We explore the near invariance of total AHT in response to orography through dynamic, energetic, and diffusive perspectives. Dynamically, orographically induced changes to stationary eddy AHT are compensated by changes in both transient eddy and mean meridional circulation AHT. This creates an AHT system with three interconnected components that resist large changes to total AHT. Energetically, the total AHT can only change if the top-of-the-atmosphere net radiation changes at the equator-to-pole scale. Midlatitude orography does not create large-enough changes in the equator-to-pole temperature gradient to alter outgoing longwave radiation enough to substantially change total AHT. In the zonal mean, changes to absorbed shortwave radiation also often compensate for changes in outgoing longwave radiation. Diffusively, the atmosphere smooths anomalies in temperature and humidity created by the addition of midlatitude orography, such that total AHT is relatively invariant.
The purpose of this study is to better understand how orography influences heat transport in the atmosphere. Enhancing our understanding of how atmospheric heat transport works is important, as heat transport helps moderate Earth’s surface temperatures and influences precipitation patterns. We find that the total amount of atmospheric heat transport does not change in the presence of mountains in the midlatitudes. Different pieces of the heat transport change, but they change in compensatory ways, such that the total heat transport remains roughly constant.