Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Publication Date
6 August 2018

Catch and Release: How Hemispheres Handle Energy through the Seasons in a Warmer World



The subtropical highs are semi-permanent atmospheric features that strengthen during April–September, exerting a large influence on regional rainfall1,2,3,4,5. Previous studies have focused on the changes of subtropical highs during their peak season (June–August)6,7,8, but little is known about their changes in other seasons. Here, a suite of multi-model simulations are used to demonstrate the robust seasonally dependent responses of subtropical highs and tropical rainfall to anthropogenic warming. The zonal-mean subtropical highs in the Northern Hemisphere are shown to strengthen more during April–June than July–September, with opposite responses for the Southern Hemisphere counterparts. These responses are closely related to a southward shift of tropical rainfall in April–June relative to July–September, manifesting in a seasonal delay of tropical rainfall and monsoon onset in the Northern Hemisphere9,10. Such seasonality is found to occur in response to elevated latent energy demand in the hemisphere warming up seasonally, as dictated by the Clausius–Clapeyron relation. The interhemispheric energy contrast drives a southward shift of tropical rainfall that strengthens the Hadley cell and zonal-mean subtropical highs in the Northern Hemisphere in April–June relative to July–September. These changes scale linearly with warming, with increasing implications for projecting climate changes in the tropics and subtropics as warming continues.

“Catch And Release: How Hemispheres Handle Energy Through The Seasons In A Warmer World”. 2018. Nature Climate Change 8: 787-792. doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0244-4.
Funding Program Area(s)