Articles | Volume 10, issue 3
Research article
30 Jun 2014
Research article |  | 30 Jun 2014

Reexamining the barrier effect of the Tibetan Plateau on the South Asian summer monsoon

G.-S. Chen, Z. Liu, and J. E. Kutzbach

Abstract. The Tibetan Plateau has been conventionally treated as an elevated heat source driving the Asian monsoon system, especially for the South Asian monsoon. Numerous model simulations with general circulation models (GCMs) support this hypothesis with the finding that the Asian monsoon system is weak or absent when all elevated topography is removed. A recent model simulation shows that the South Asian summer monsoon circulation is little affected with only the Himalayas (no-Tibetan Plateau) kept as a barrier, leading to a hypothesis of the barrier "blocking" mechanism of the Tibetan Plateau. In this paper, a new series of experiments are designed to reexamine this barrier effect. We find that with the barrier, the large-scale summer monsoon circulation over South Asia is simulated in general agreement with the full Tibetan Plateau, which is consistent with the previous finding. However, there remains significant differences in both wind and precipitation fields, suggesting a role for the full Tibetan Plateau as well. Moreover, the proposed barrier blocking mechanism is not found in our experiments. The energy of the low-level air and the convection are lower and weaker over the Indian subcontinent in the full Tibetan Plateau experiment than that in the no-Tibetan Plateau experiment or the barrier only experiment, which is in contrast to the barrier blocking hypothesis. Instead, there is a similar candle-like latent heating in the middle troposphere along the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau in both the full Tibetan Plateau and the barrier experiments, whereas this "candle heating" disappears in the no-Tibetan Plateau experiment. We propose that this candle heating is the key to understanding the mechanisms of the Tibetan Plateau on the South Asian monsoon. Future studies are needed to check the source of the "candle heating" and its effect on the Asian monsoon.