Evidence for Strengthening of the Tropical General Circulation in the 1990s

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Science  01 Feb 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5556, pp. 838-841
DOI: 10.1126/science.1065835

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Satellite observations suggest that the thermal radiation emitted by Earth to space increased by more than 5 watts per square meter, while reflected sunlight decreased by less than 2 watts per square meter, in the tropics over the period 1985–2000, with most of the increase occurring after 1990. By analyzing temporal changes in the frequency of occurrence of emitted thermal and reflected solar fluxes, the effects of El Niño–Southern Oscillation are minimized, and an independent longer-time-scale variation of the radiation budget is identified. Similar analyses of upper tropospheric humidity, cloud amount, surface air temperature, and vertical velocity confirm that these flux changes are associated with a decadal-time-scale strengthening of the tropical Hadley and Walker circulations. Equatorial convective regions have intensified in upward motion and moistened, while both the equatorial and subtropical subsidence regions have become drier and less cloudy.

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