Investigating the Impact of Land Surface Characteristics on Monsoon Dynamics with Idealized Model Simulations and Theories

Publication Year


Journal Article

Monsoons emerge over a range of land surface conditions and exhibit varying physical characteristics over the seasonal cycle, from onset to withdrawal. Systematically varying the moisture and albedo parameters over land in an idealized modeling framework allows one to analyze the physics underlying the successive stages of monsoon development. To this end we implement an isolated South American continent with reduced heat capacity but no topography in an idealized moist general circulation model. Irrespective of the local moisture availability, the seasonal cycles of precipitation and circulation over the South American monsoon sector are distinctly monsoonal with the default surface albedo. The dry land case (zero evaporation) is characterized by a shallow overturning circulation with vigorous lower-tropospheric ascent, transporting water vapor from the ocean. By contrast, with bucket hydrology or unlimited land moisture the monsoon features deep moist convection that penetrates the upper troposphere. A series of land albedo perturbation experiments indicates that the monsoon strengthens with the net column energy flux and the near-surface moist static energy with all land moisture conditions. When the land-ocean thermal contrast is strong enough, inertial instability alone is sufficient for producing a shallow but vigorous circulation and converging a large amount of moisture from the ocean even in the absence of land moisture. Once the land is sufficiently moist, convective instability takes hold and the shallow circulation deepens. These results have implications for monsoon onset and intensification, and may elucidate the seasonal variations in how surface warming impacts tropical precipitation over land.

Journal of Climate
Date Published
October 2021
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