Simulation of the 1976/77 Climate Transition over the North Pacific: Sensitivity to Tropical Forcing

Clara Deser National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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Adam S. Phillips National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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Abstract

This study examines the contribution of tropical sea surface temperature (SST) forcing to the 1976/77 climate transition of the winter atmospheric circulation over the North Pacific using a combined observational and modeling approach. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Atmospheric Model version 3 (CAM3) simulates approximately 75% of the observed 4-hPa deepening of the wintertime Aleutian low from 1950–76 to 1977–2000 when forced with the observed evolution of tropical SSTs in a 10-member ensemble average. This response is driven by precipitation increases over the western half of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In contrast, the NCAR Community Climate Model version 3 (CCM3), the predecessor to CAM3, simulates no significant change in the strength of the Aleutian low when forced with the same tropical SSTs in a 12-member ensemble average. The lack of response in CCM3 is traced to an erroneously large precipitation increase over the tropical Indian Ocean whose dynamical impact is to weaken the Aleutian low; this, when combined with the response to rainfall increases over the western and central equatorial Pacific, results in near-zero net change in the strength of the Aleutian low. The observed distribution of tropical precipitation anomalies associated with the 1976/77 transition, estimated from a combination of direct measurements at land stations and indirect information from surface marine cloudiness and wind divergence fields, supports the models’ simulated rainfall increases over the western half of the Pacific but not the magnitude of CCM3’s rainfall increase over the Indian Ocean.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Clara Deser, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, NCAR, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000. Email: cdeser@ucar.edu

Abstract

This study examines the contribution of tropical sea surface temperature (SST) forcing to the 1976/77 climate transition of the winter atmospheric circulation over the North Pacific using a combined observational and modeling approach. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Atmospheric Model version 3 (CAM3) simulates approximately 75% of the observed 4-hPa deepening of the wintertime Aleutian low from 1950–76 to 1977–2000 when forced with the observed evolution of tropical SSTs in a 10-member ensemble average. This response is driven by precipitation increases over the western half of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In contrast, the NCAR Community Climate Model version 3 (CCM3), the predecessor to CAM3, simulates no significant change in the strength of the Aleutian low when forced with the same tropical SSTs in a 12-member ensemble average. The lack of response in CCM3 is traced to an erroneously large precipitation increase over the tropical Indian Ocean whose dynamical impact is to weaken the Aleutian low; this, when combined with the response to rainfall increases over the western and central equatorial Pacific, results in near-zero net change in the strength of the Aleutian low. The observed distribution of tropical precipitation anomalies associated with the 1976/77 transition, estimated from a combination of direct measurements at land stations and indirect information from surface marine cloudiness and wind divergence fields, supports the models’ simulated rainfall increases over the western half of the Pacific but not the magnitude of CCM3’s rainfall increase over the Indian Ocean.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Clara Deser, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, NCAR, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000. Email: cdeser@ucar.edu

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