Asymmetry of the Distribution of Vertical Velocities of the Extratropical Atmosphere in Theory, Models, and Reanalysis

Matthieu Kohl aDepartment of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Paul A. O’Gorman aDepartment of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Abstract

The vertical velocity distribution in the atmosphere is asymmetric with stronger upward than downward motion. This asymmetry is important for the distribution of precipitation and its extremes and for an effective static stability that has been used to represent the effects of latent heating on extratropical eddies. Idealized GCM simulations show that the asymmetry increases as the climate warms, but current moist dynamical theories based around small-amplitude modes greatly overestimate the increase in asymmetry with warming found in the simulations. Here, we first analyze the changes in asymmetry with warming using numerical inversions of a moist quasigeostrophic omega equation applied to output from the idealized GCM. The inversions show that increases in the asymmetry with warming in the GCM simulations are primarily related to decreases in moist static stability on the left-hand side of the moist omega equation, whereas the dynamical forcing on the right-hand side of the omega equation is unskewed and contributes little to the asymmetry of the vertical velocity distribution. By contrast, increases in asymmetry with warming for small-amplitude modes are related to changes in both moist static stability and dynamical forcing leading to enhanced asymmetry in warm climates. We distill these insights into a toy model of the moist omega equation that is solved for a given moist static stability and wavenumber of the dynamical forcing. In comparison to modal theory, the toy model better reproduces the slow increase of the asymmetry with climate warming in the idealized GCM simulations and over the seasonal cycle from winter to summer in reanalysis.

Significance Statement

Upward velocities are stronger than downward velocities in the atmosphere, and this asymmetry is important for the distribution of precipitation because precipitation is linked to upward motion. An important and open question is what sets this asymmetry and how much it increases as the climate warms. Past work has shown that current theories greatly overestimate the increase in asymmetry with warming in idealized simulations. In this work, we develop a more complete theory and show that it is able to better reproduce the slow increase of the asymmetry with warming that is found over the seasonal cycle from winter to summer and in idealized simulations of warming climates.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Matthieu Kohl, mkohl@mit.edu

Abstract

The vertical velocity distribution in the atmosphere is asymmetric with stronger upward than downward motion. This asymmetry is important for the distribution of precipitation and its extremes and for an effective static stability that has been used to represent the effects of latent heating on extratropical eddies. Idealized GCM simulations show that the asymmetry increases as the climate warms, but current moist dynamical theories based around small-amplitude modes greatly overestimate the increase in asymmetry with warming found in the simulations. Here, we first analyze the changes in asymmetry with warming using numerical inversions of a moist quasigeostrophic omega equation applied to output from the idealized GCM. The inversions show that increases in the asymmetry with warming in the GCM simulations are primarily related to decreases in moist static stability on the left-hand side of the moist omega equation, whereas the dynamical forcing on the right-hand side of the omega equation is unskewed and contributes little to the asymmetry of the vertical velocity distribution. By contrast, increases in asymmetry with warming for small-amplitude modes are related to changes in both moist static stability and dynamical forcing leading to enhanced asymmetry in warm climates. We distill these insights into a toy model of the moist omega equation that is solved for a given moist static stability and wavenumber of the dynamical forcing. In comparison to modal theory, the toy model better reproduces the slow increase of the asymmetry with climate warming in the idealized GCM simulations and over the seasonal cycle from winter to summer in reanalysis.

Significance Statement

Upward velocities are stronger than downward velocities in the atmosphere, and this asymmetry is important for the distribution of precipitation because precipitation is linked to upward motion. An important and open question is what sets this asymmetry and how much it increases as the climate warms. Past work has shown that current theories greatly overestimate the increase in asymmetry with warming in idealized simulations. In this work, we develop a more complete theory and show that it is able to better reproduce the slow increase of the asymmetry with warming that is found over the seasonal cycle from winter to summer and in idealized simulations of warming climates.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Matthieu Kohl, mkohl@mit.edu
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