General circulation of the atmosphere

Semester 1 2020



Class notes

I have written a set of notes to accompany the class.

  • Updated 9/05/2020: Correction of some typos.
  • Thanks to Kate Bongiovanni, Nathan Eizenberg, and Corey Robinson for providing feedback.


Other useful resources

Futher details and other perspectives on the topics covered in the notes above may be found in the following resources:

  • Held, I. M., The general circulation of the atmosphere, Proc. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Program, 2000, 1-54. Proceedings of a summer school in Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution in the year 2000 given by Isaac Held.
  • Vallis, G. K., Atmospheric and oceanic fluid dynamics: fundamentals and large-scale circulation, Cambridge University Press, 2006, 745p. Chapters 11 & 12 are particularly relevant.
  • Peixoto, J. P. & Oort, A. H., Physics of Climate, J. Climate, AIP Press, 1992, 520p. Provides an observational account of the general circulation.
  • Stone, P., General circulation of the atmosphere lectures, course 12.812, Mass. Inst. Tech., 2005. Notes from a graduate course at MIT taught by Peter Stone.

Important papers

For each topic of the course I will provide some references in the peer-reviewed literature that are particularly influencial or relevant. Many of these will be appropriate papers to present for the required paper report.


Overview & tools

History of the general circulation

  • Lorenz, E. (1983), A history of prevailing ideas about the general circulation of the atmosphere. Bull. Amer. Met. Soc., 64, 730-769.
  • Schneider, T. (2006), The general circulation of the atmosphere. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci, 34, 655-688.

Basic equations of the atmosphere

  • Chapter 2.2 of Vallis, G.K., Atmospheric & Oceanic fluid dynamics: fundamentals and large-scale circulation, Cambridge University Press, 2006, 745p.

Circulation decomposition and state estimation

  • Section III and IV(A,B) of Peixoto, J. & Oort, A. (1984), Physics of climate. J. Climate, 56, 365-429.
  • Kalnay, E. et al. (1996), The NCEP/NCAR 40-year reanalysis project. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 77, 437-471.


Angular momentum & the large-scale circulation

The Hadley circulation and monsoons

  • Held, I. M. & Hou, A. Y. (1980), Nonlinear Axially Symmetric Circulations in a Nearly Inviscid Atmosphere. J. Atmos. Sci., 37, 515-533
  • Lindzen, R. S. & Hou, A. Y. (1988), Hadley circulations for zonally averaged heating centered off the equator. J. Atmos. Sci., 45, 2416-2427.
  • Plumb, R. A. & Hou, A. Y. (1992), The response of a zonally symmetric atmosphere to subtropical thermal forcing: Threshold behavior. J. Atmos. Sci., 49, 1790-1799.
  • Emanuel, K.A. (1995), On thermally direct circulations in moist atmospheres. J. Atmos. Sci., 52, 1529-1534.
  • Bordoni, S. & Schneider, T. (2008), Monsoons as eddy-mediated regime transitions of the tropical overturning circulation. Nat. Geosci., 1, 515-519.

Eddies and the midlatitude jet

  • Held (1975), Momentum transport by quasi-geostrophic eddies. J. Atmos. Sci., 32, 1494-1497.
  • Randel, W. J. & Held, I. M. (1991), Phase speed spectra of transient eddy fluxes and critical layer absorption. J. Atmos. Sci., 48, 688-697.


Forcing of the zonal mean

Eliassen-Palm fluxes & the transformed Eulerian mean

  • Edmon, H. J.; Hoskins, B. J. & McIntyre, M. E. (1980), Eliassen-Palm cross sections for the troposphere. J. Atmos. Sci., 37, 2600 - 2616,
  • Hoskins, B. J.; McIntyre, M. E. & Robertson, A. (1985). W, On the use and significance of isentropic potential vorticity maps. Quart. J. Roy. Meteorol. Soc., 111, 877 - 946.

The isentropic overturning circulation

  • Held, I. & Schneider, T. (1999), The surface branch of the zonally averaged mass transport circulation in the troposphere. J. Atmos. Sci., 56, 1688-1697.
  • Pauluis, O.; Czaja, A. & Korty, R., (2009), The global atmospheric circulation in moist isentropic coordinates. J. Climate.

General circulation and climate change

  • Vallis, G. K., Zurita‐Gotor, P., Cairns, C., & Kidston, J. (2015), Response of the large‐scale structure of the atmosphere to global warming. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc., 141, 1479-1501.
  • Singh, M. S. & O'Gorman, P. A. (2012), Upward shift of the atmospheric general circulation under global warming: Theory and simulations. J. Climate, 25, 8259-8276.
  • Lu, J.; Vecchi, G. & Reichler, T. (2007), Expansion of the Hadley cell under global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L06805.
  • Held, I. M. & Soden, B. J. (2006), Robust responses of the hydrological cycle to global warming. J. Climate 19, 5686-5699.
  • O'Gorman, P. A. & Schneider, T. (2008), The hydrological cycle over a wide range of climates simulated with an idealized GCM. J. Climate, 21, 3815-3832.