El Niño as a Natural Experiment for Studying the Tropical Tropopause Region

A. Gettelman National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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W. J. Randel National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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S. Massie National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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F. Wu National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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W. G. Read NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

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J. M. Russell III Center for Atmospheric Sciences, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia

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Abstract

The interannual variability of the tropical tropopause region between 14 and 18 km is examined using observations of convection, winds, and tropopause temperatures from reanalyses and water vapor from satellites. This variability is compared to a simulation using the Community Climate Model version 3 (CCM3) general circulation model forced by observed sea surface temperatures. A coherent picture of the effect of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on the tropopause region is presented in the NCEP–NCAR reanalyses and CCM3. ENSO modifies convection in the Tropics, and the temperature and circulation of the tropical tropopause region, in agreement with idealized models of tropical heating. CCM3 reproduces most details of these changes, but not the zonal mean temperature variations present in the analysis fields, which are not related to ENSO. ENSO also forces significant changes in observed and simulated water vapor fields. In the upper troposphere water vapor is at maximum near convection, while in the tropopause region water vapor is at minimum in the regions of convection and surrounding it. Convection, cirrus clouds, temperatures, and transport are all linked to describe the water vapor distribution and highlight the role of transport in the tropopause region.

Corresponding author address: A. Gettelman, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000. Email: andrew@ucar.edu.

Abstract

The interannual variability of the tropical tropopause region between 14 and 18 km is examined using observations of convection, winds, and tropopause temperatures from reanalyses and water vapor from satellites. This variability is compared to a simulation using the Community Climate Model version 3 (CCM3) general circulation model forced by observed sea surface temperatures. A coherent picture of the effect of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on the tropopause region is presented in the NCEP–NCAR reanalyses and CCM3. ENSO modifies convection in the Tropics, and the temperature and circulation of the tropical tropopause region, in agreement with idealized models of tropical heating. CCM3 reproduces most details of these changes, but not the zonal mean temperature variations present in the analysis fields, which are not related to ENSO. ENSO also forces significant changes in observed and simulated water vapor fields. In the upper troposphere water vapor is at maximum near convection, while in the tropopause region water vapor is at minimum in the regions of convection and surrounding it. Convection, cirrus clouds, temperatures, and transport are all linked to describe the water vapor distribution and highlight the role of transport in the tropopause region.

Corresponding author address: A. Gettelman, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000. Email: andrew@ucar.edu.

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