Volume 24, Issue12 (October 2004)Articles in the Current Issue:Research ArticleCharacteristics, evolution and mechanisms of the summer monsoon onset over Southeast Asia
Based on the 1979-95 mean pentad reanalysis data from the US National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the climatological characteristics and physical mechanism of the Asian summer monsoon (ASM) onset are investigated. Special focus is given to whether the ASM onset starts earlier over the Indochina Peninsula than over the South China Sea (SCS) and why the ASM is established the earliest over Southeast Asia.An examination of the composite thermodynamic and dynamic quantities confirms that the ASM onset commences earliest over the Indochina Peninsula, as highlighted by active convection and rainfall resulting from the convergence of southwesterly flow from the Bay of Bengal (BOB) vortex and easterly winds associated with the subtropical anticyclone over the SCS. Two other important characteristics not previously noted are also identified: the earliest reversal of meridional temperature gradient throughout the entire troposphere and the corresponding establishment of an easterly vertical wind shear, which are due to upper level warming caused by eddy (convective) transport of latent heat.These changes in the large-scale circulation suggest that, in addition to rainfall, a reversal in the planetary-scale circulation should be included in determining the timing of the ASM onset. With such a consideration, the climatological ASM onset occurs first over southeastern BOB and southwestern Indochina Peninsula in early May, and then advances northeastward to reach the SCS by the fourth pentad of May (16-20 May). The monsoon then covers the entire Southeast Asia region by the end of May. Subsequently, a similar onset process begins over the eastern Arabian Sea, India and western BOB, and the complete establishment of the ASM over India is accomplished in mid June. In the process of the onset of each ASM component, the reversal of the upper level planetary-scale circulation depends strongly on that of the meridional temperature gradient. Over the Indochina Peninsula, the seasonal transition of upper level temperature results from convection-induced diabatic heating, whereas over western Asia it is attributed to subsidence warming induced by the active ascending motion over the former region.The steady increase in surface sensible heating over the Indian subcontinent and the latent heating over the tropical Indian Ocean in April to early May appear to be the major impetus for the development of the cyclonic vortex over the BOB. A similar enhancement over the Arabian Peninsula and the surrounding regions is also identified to be crucial to the development of the so-called onset vortex over the Arabian Sea, and then ultimately to the ASM onset over India.