Radiative and Dynamical Feedbacks over the Equatorial Cold Tongue: Results from Nine Atmospheric GCMs

D.-Z. Sun CIRES/Climate Diagnostics Center, and NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

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T. Zhang CIRES/Climate Diagnostics Center, and NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

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C. Covey Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California

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S. A. Klein Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California

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W. D. Collins National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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J. J. Hack National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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J. T. Kiehl National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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G. A. Meehl National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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I. M. Held NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey

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M. Suarez National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Greenbelt, Maryland

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Abstract

The equatorial Pacific is a region with strong negative feedbacks. Yet coupled general circulation models (GCMs) have exhibited a propensity to develop a significant SST bias in that region, suggesting an unrealistic sensitivity in the coupled models to small energy flux errors that inevitably occur in the individual model components. Could this “hypersensitivity” exhibited in a coupled model be due to an underestimate of the strength of the negative feedbacks in this region? With this suspicion, the feedbacks in the equatorial Pacific in nine atmospheric GCMs (AGCMs) have been quantified using the interannual variations in that region and compared with the corresponding calculations from the observations. The nine AGCMs are the NCAR Community Climate Model version 1 (CAM1), the NCAR Community Climate Model version 2 (CAM2), the NCAR Community Climate Model version 3 (CAM3), the NCAR CAM3 at T85 resolution, the NASA Seasonal-to-Interannual Prediction Project (NSIPP) Atmospheric Model, the Hadley Centre Atmospheric Model (HadAM3), the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace (IPSL) model (LMDZ4), the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) AM2p10, and the GFDL AM2p12. All the corresponding coupled runs of these nine AGCMs have an excessive cold tongue in the equatorial Pacific.

The net atmospheric feedback over the equatorial Pacific in the two GFDL models is found to be comparable to the observed value. All other models are found to have a weaker negative net feedback from the atmosphere—a weaker regulating effect on the underlying SST than the real atmosphere. Except for the French (IPSL) model, a weaker negative feedback from the cloud albedo and a weaker negative feedback from the atmospheric transport are the two leading contributors to the weaker regulating effect from the atmosphere. The underestimate of the strength of the negative feedbacks by the models is apparently linked to an underestimate of the equatorial precipitation response. All models have a stronger water vapor feedback than that indicated in Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) observations. These results confirm the suspicion that an underestimate of the regulatory effect from the atmosphere over the equatorial Pacific region is a prevalent problem. The results also suggest, however, that a weaker regulatory effect from the atmosphere is unlikely solely responsible for the hypersensitivity in all models. The need to validate the feedbacks from the ocean transport is therefore highlighted.

Corresponding author address: De-Zheng Sun, NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: dezheng.sun@noaa.gov

Abstract

The equatorial Pacific is a region with strong negative feedbacks. Yet coupled general circulation models (GCMs) have exhibited a propensity to develop a significant SST bias in that region, suggesting an unrealistic sensitivity in the coupled models to small energy flux errors that inevitably occur in the individual model components. Could this “hypersensitivity” exhibited in a coupled model be due to an underestimate of the strength of the negative feedbacks in this region? With this suspicion, the feedbacks in the equatorial Pacific in nine atmospheric GCMs (AGCMs) have been quantified using the interannual variations in that region and compared with the corresponding calculations from the observations. The nine AGCMs are the NCAR Community Climate Model version 1 (CAM1), the NCAR Community Climate Model version 2 (CAM2), the NCAR Community Climate Model version 3 (CAM3), the NCAR CAM3 at T85 resolution, the NASA Seasonal-to-Interannual Prediction Project (NSIPP) Atmospheric Model, the Hadley Centre Atmospheric Model (HadAM3), the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace (IPSL) model (LMDZ4), the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) AM2p10, and the GFDL AM2p12. All the corresponding coupled runs of these nine AGCMs have an excessive cold tongue in the equatorial Pacific.

The net atmospheric feedback over the equatorial Pacific in the two GFDL models is found to be comparable to the observed value. All other models are found to have a weaker negative net feedback from the atmosphere—a weaker regulating effect on the underlying SST than the real atmosphere. Except for the French (IPSL) model, a weaker negative feedback from the cloud albedo and a weaker negative feedback from the atmospheric transport are the two leading contributors to the weaker regulating effect from the atmosphere. The underestimate of the strength of the negative feedbacks by the models is apparently linked to an underestimate of the equatorial precipitation response. All models have a stronger water vapor feedback than that indicated in Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) observations. These results confirm the suspicion that an underestimate of the regulatory effect from the atmosphere over the equatorial Pacific region is a prevalent problem. The results also suggest, however, that a weaker regulatory effect from the atmosphere is unlikely solely responsible for the hypersensitivity in all models. The need to validate the feedbacks from the ocean transport is therefore highlighted.

Corresponding author address: De-Zheng Sun, NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: dezheng.sun@noaa.gov

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