Importance of positive cloud feedback for tropical Atlantic interhemispheric climate variability

  • Timothy A. Myers
  • Carlos R. Mechoso
  • Michael J. DeFlorio


Over the tropical Atlantic during boreal spring, average interhemispheric differences in sea-surface temperature (SST) coincide with a coherent pattern of interannual climate variability often referred to as the Atlantic Meridional Mode. This includes anomalous SST and sea-level pressure roughly anti-symmetric about the equator, as well as cross-equatorial near-surface winds directed toward the warmer hemisphere. Within subtropical marine boundary layer cloud regions in both hemispheres, enhanced cloudiness associated with this variability is co-located with cool SST, a strong temperature inversion, and cold horizontal surface temperature advection, while reduced cloudiness is associated with the opposite meteorological conditions. This is indicative a positive cloud feedback that reinforces the underlying SST anomalies. The simulation of this feedback varies widely among models participating in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. Models that fail to simulate this feedback substantially underestimate the amplitudes of typical tropical Atlantic interhemispheric variability in cloudiness off of the equator, SST, and atmospheric circulation. Models that correctly reproduce a positive cloud feedback generally produce higher and more realistic amplitudes of variability, but with substantial scatter. Marine boundary layer clouds therefore appear to be a key element of springtime coupled atmosphere–ocean variability over the tropical Atlantic. A markedly more successful simulation of this variability in climate models may be obtained by better representing boundary layer cloud processes.



This study was funded by NOAA’s Climate Program Office, Climate Variability and Predictability Program Award NA14OAR4310278. The research was partly carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA. CERES data were obtained from the NASA Langley Research Center CERES ordering tool at ISCCP data were downloaded from the Atmospheric Science Data Center located at NASA Langley Research Center. Joel Norris kindly provided the monthly-averaged corrected and uncorrected ISCCP data. ERA-Interim data were downloaded from the ECMWF data server at The authors thank both the World Climate Research Programme Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and the climate modeling groups for producing and making available their model output. Thanks also to Paquita Zuidema and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments that improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Jet Propulsion LaboratoryCalifornia Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA

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