Coherent potential vorticity maxima and their relationship to extreme summer rainfall in the Australian and North African tropics

Lam P. Hoang, Michael J. Reeder, Gareth J. Berry, Juliane Schwendike

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Extreme rainfall in the tropics is frequently linked with coherent synoptic-scale potential vorticity (PV) disturbances. Here, an objective technique is used to identify coherent synoptic-scale cyclonic PV maxima with a focus on those that occur during summer over the African and Australian tropics. These two regions are chosen for comparison because of their geographical and climatological similarities. In particular, in both regions oceans lie equatorward and extensive deserts lie poleward, a juxtaposition that produces a reversal in the mean north-south temperature gradient and, through thermal wind, a low level easterly jet. In general, in the lower troposphere there are more coherent PV maxima in the tropics in the summer hemisphere than the winter hemisphere. These coherent PV maxima generally move with the background flow in the lower troposphere. The largest meridional flux of coherent PV maxima lies along eastern Australia with about half of the coherent PV maxima generated through the filamentaton and eventual isolation of midlatitude PV. In contrast, in the north African tropics, coherent PV maxima are generated mostly in the tropics and move westward through the west African monsoon region. Composites based on the extreme rainfall days for two regions are broadly similar with large, statistically significant PV maxima to the east of the maximum positive rainfall anomalies. The vertical structures of the PV fields in the two regions reveal a cyclonic PV maximum in the mid-troposphere collocated with the maximum of diabatic heating. The composite horizontal wind structures in the Australian tropics show structures similar to mesoscale convective systems (MCSs), whereas in the African tropics, they are similar to easterly waves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-440
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Southern Hemisphere Earth Systems Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • rainfall
  • easterly waves
  • monsoon

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