Expansion of the northern hemisphere subtropical high pressure belt: Trends and linkages to precipitation and drought

Bohumil M. Svoma, Daniel S. Krahenbuhl, Chad E. Bush, Jonny W. Malloy, Joshua R. White, Melissa A. Wagner, Matthew B. Pace, Kimberly Debiasse, Nancy Selover, Robert Balling, Randall Cerveny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


A critical issue in research concerning long-term climate change is the relationship between circulation features and global temperature variations. We establish that the annual areal size of the northern hemisphere subtropical high pressure belt (SHPB), as defined by seven 500-hPa height isohypses, shares over 70% of the variability with global annual near-surface air temperature since 1948. The area enclosed by the 5850-m isohypse of the 500-hPa surface in the northern hemisphere has more than doubled since the 1950s, with greatest increases over northern Africa, the Middle East and India. A long-term historical run of a coupled global climate model shows rapidly increasing SHPB annual sizes, since the mid-1970s. Since the SHPBs descending air produces increased aridity, SHPB expansion may transition humid regions to more arid lands. To examine this aspect, first, variations in recorded precipitation using a gridded database for the region experiencing expansion of the SHPB show a decrease in precipitation (though significant only at the 88% confidence level) over the last 60 years. Second, variations in a 0.5° spatial resolution monthly drought index, the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index, are highly correlated (+0.78) with annual variations in the area enclosed by the 500-hPa height isohypses. These results support those of previous investigations that suggest further northward expansion of the northern hemisphere subtropical dry zones with continued global climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-187
Number of pages14
JournalPhysical Geography
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013


  • climate change
  • drought
  • subtropical high

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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