Seasonality and Interannual Variations of Northern Hemisphere Temperature: Equator-to-Pole Gradient and Ocean–Land Contrast

Shaleen Jain Utah Water Research Laboratory and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Utah State University, Logan, Utah

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Upmanu Lall Utah Water Research Laboratory and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Utah State University, Logan, Utah

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Michael E. Mann Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts—Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts

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Abstract

Historical variations in the equator-to-pole surface temperature gradient (EPG) and the ocean–land surface temperature contrast (OLC) based on spatial finite differencing of gridded historical sea surface and land air temperatures are analyzed. The two temperature gradients represent zonally symmetric and asymmetric thermal forcings of the atmosphere. The strength and position of the Hadley cell and of the westerlies is related to the EPG, while the strength of the eddies coupled to the mid/high-latitude quasigeostrophic flow is related to the OLC. Taking these two parameters as simple yet highly meaningful diagnostics of the low-frequency variability of the atmosphere and climate system, the authors revisit a number of timely issues in the area of diagnostic climate studies. Of particular interest are seasonality and its variations and evidence of warming expected from greenhouse gas increases. Investigations of possible effects of CO2-induced greenhouse warming are pursued by comparing the trends in EPG and OLC estimated from the observations and by using the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) general circulation model (GCM) results for control and transient-increased CO2 simulations. Significant differences are noted between the trends in EPG and OLC for observational data and the increased CO2 GCM scenario. However, the dynamical response of both EPG and OLC during subperiods with warming and cooling is consistent with that exhibited by the GFDL GCM. In this sense, the “fingerprint” of anthropogenic forcing of the climate is not clearly evident in these basic diagnostics of large-scale climate variability.

Corresponding author address: Prof. Upmanu Lall, Utah Water Research Laboratory, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-8200.

Email: ulall@cc.usu.edu

Abstract

Historical variations in the equator-to-pole surface temperature gradient (EPG) and the ocean–land surface temperature contrast (OLC) based on spatial finite differencing of gridded historical sea surface and land air temperatures are analyzed. The two temperature gradients represent zonally symmetric and asymmetric thermal forcings of the atmosphere. The strength and position of the Hadley cell and of the westerlies is related to the EPG, while the strength of the eddies coupled to the mid/high-latitude quasigeostrophic flow is related to the OLC. Taking these two parameters as simple yet highly meaningful diagnostics of the low-frequency variability of the atmosphere and climate system, the authors revisit a number of timely issues in the area of diagnostic climate studies. Of particular interest are seasonality and its variations and evidence of warming expected from greenhouse gas increases. Investigations of possible effects of CO2-induced greenhouse warming are pursued by comparing the trends in EPG and OLC estimated from the observations and by using the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) general circulation model (GCM) results for control and transient-increased CO2 simulations. Significant differences are noted between the trends in EPG and OLC for observational data and the increased CO2 GCM scenario. However, the dynamical response of both EPG and OLC during subperiods with warming and cooling is consistent with that exhibited by the GFDL GCM. In this sense, the “fingerprint” of anthropogenic forcing of the climate is not clearly evident in these basic diagnostics of large-scale climate variability.

Corresponding author address: Prof. Upmanu Lall, Utah Water Research Laboratory, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-8200.

Email: ulall@cc.usu.edu

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