Adam H. Sobel

Earth and Environmental Sciences
Ocean and Climate Physics
Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
206C Oceanography
61 Route 9W - PO Box 1000
(845) 365-8527
(845) 365-8157
Fields of interest: 
Atmospheric and climate dynamics, tropical meteorology.

In the extratropical latitudes (where, for example, Columbia University is located) we have a fairly good understanding of the basic dynamical processes that control the atmosphere's behavior. This understanding has two manifestations. With sophisticated numerical models, we can predict the extratropical weather fairly well, up to a week ahead or so. We also have much simpler mathematical models which, though not accurate enough to produce good weather forecasts, capture the basic dynamics of the atmosphere and can at least qualitatively simulate the important phenomena such as winter storms, fronts, waves in the jet stream, etc. These simpler models are derived as approximations to the full equations of atmospheric motion and energy. They form the core of our understanding and guide us as we analyze both observations and numerical simulations of the extratropical atmosphere.

The atmosphere behaves differently in the tropics than in the extratropics, and is less well understood. Weather forecasts are considerably less accurate in the tropics, and many of the largest uncertainties in our simulations of the global climate are related to gaps in our understanding of tropical atmospheric processes. In particular, we do not understand, in a wide range of circumstances, what controls where and when rain falls in the tropics. This lack of understanding and predictive capability is expressed by our lack of simple mathematical models for the tropics that combine economy and correctness as successfully as the simple extratropical models do.

My research efforts are focused on improving our understanding of tropical dynamics.  I focus to a large extent on what controls rainfall patterns and their variability on time scales of days to decades.  My associates and I use mathematical models of varying degrees of complexity for this purpose.  Some can be solved with pencil and paper, and some (more typically) require powerful computers.  We also analyze observational data, which is important to keep a theoretical and modeling research program grounded in reality.

Some of my projects include:

  • Madden-Julian Oscillation (including DYNAMO field program, see
  • Tropical cyclones and climate
  • African drought
  • Circulation and seasonal cycle changes under global warming
  • Atmospheric water vapor



List of degrees from highest to lowest:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Honors & Awards: 
American Meteorological Society Clarence Leroy Meisinger Award, 2010
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Award for Excellence in Mentoring, 2010
American Meteorological Society Editor's Award, 2009 (Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences)
Lamont/DEES Student List: 
Selected Publications: 
Rain on small tropical islands, Sobel, A. H.; Burleyson, C. D.; Yuter, S. E. , Journal of Geophysical Research, Volume 116, (2011), 10.1029/2010JD014695

Response of convection to relative sea surface temperature: Cloud-resolving simulations in two and three dimensions, Wang., S.; Sobel, A. H. , Journal of Geophysical Research, Issue 116, (2011), 10.1029/2010JD015347

A systematic relationship between intraseasonal variability and mean state bias in AGCM simulations, Kim, D.; Sobel, A. H.; Maloney, E. D.; Frierson, D. M. W.; Kang, I.-S. , Journal of Climate, Volume 24, p.5506-5520, (2011)

Delayed seasonal cycle and African monsoon in a warmer climate, Biasutti, M; Sobel, A H , Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 36, p.L23707, (2009)

A global perspective on African climate, Giannini, A.; Biasutti, M.; Held, I. M.; Sobel, A. H. , Climatic Change, Oct, Volume 90, Issue 4, p.359-383, (2008), DOI 10.1007/s10584-008-9396-y

The role of surface fluxes in tropical intraseasonal oscillations, Sobel, A. H.; Maloney, E. D.; Bellon, G.; Frierson, D. M. W. , Nature Geoscience, Volume 1, p.653-657, (2008)

Use of a genesis potential index to diagnose ENSO effects on tropical cyclone genesis, Camargo, S. J.; Emanuel, K. A.; Sobel, A. H. , Journal of Climate, Oct, Volume 20, Issue 19, p.4819-4834, (2007), Doi 10.1175/Jcli4282.1

Western North Pacific tropical cyclone intensity and ENSO, Camargo, S. J.; Sobel, A. H. , Journal of Climate, Aug 1, Volume 18, Issue 15, p.2996-3006, (2005)

Influence of western North Pacific tropical cyclones on their large-scale environment, Sobel, A. H.; Camargo, S. J. , Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, Sep, Volume 62, Issue 9, p.3396-3407, (2005)

A simple time-dependent model of SST hot spots, Sobel, A. H.; Gildor, H. , Journal of Climate, Dec, Volume 16, Issue 23, p.3978-3992, (2003)

The Hadley circulation and the weak temperature gradient approximation, Polvani, L. M.; Sobel, A. H. , Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, May 15, Volume 59, Issue 10, p.1744-1752, (2002)

The weak temperature gradient approximation and balanced tropical moisture waves, Sobel, A. H.; Nilsson, J.; Polvani, L. M. , Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, Volume 58, Issue 23, p.3650-3665, (2001)