Moist recirculation and water vapor transport on dry isentropes

Frédéric Laliberté, Tiffany Shaw, Olivier Pauluis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An analysis of the overturning circulation in dry isentropic coordinates using reanalysis data is presented. The meridional mass fluxes on surfaces of constant dry potential temperature but distinct equivalent potential temperature are separated into southward and northward contributions. The separation identifies thermodynamically distinct mass fluxes moving in opposite directions. The eddy meridional water vapor transport is shown to be associated with large poleward and equatorward mass fluxes occurring at the same value of dry potential temperature but different equivalent potential temperature. These mass fluxes, referred to here as themoist recirculation, are associated with an export of water vapor fromthe subtropics connecting the Hadley cell to the midlatitude storm tracks. The poleward branch of the moist recirculation occurs at mean equivalent potential temperatures comparable to upper tropospheric dry potential temperature values, indicating that typical poleward-moving air parcels can ascend to the tropopause. The analysis suggests that these air parcels ascend on the equatorward side of storm tracks by following moist isentropes reminiscent of upright deep convection, while on the poleward side their moist isentropes are indicative of large-scale slantwise convection. In the equatorward branch, the analysis describes typical air parcels that follow their dry isentropes until they get injected into the boundary layer where they are subsequently moistened. The moist recirculation along with the mean equivalent potential temperature of its poleward and equatorward components are used to recover an approximate overturning circulation on moist isentropes from which it is shown that the moist recirculation accounts for the difference between the meridional circulation averaged on dry and on moist isentropes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)875-890
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Convection
  • Energy transport
  • Extratropical cyclones
  • Isentropic analysis
  • Meridional overturning circulation
  • Moisture/moisture budget

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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