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Atmospheric Circulation Trends, 1950–2000: The Relative Roles of Sea Surface Temperature Forcing and Direct Atmospheric Radiative Forcing

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  • 1 Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

The relative roles of direct atmospheric radiative forcing (due to observed changes in well-mixed greenhouse gases, tropospheric and stratospheric ozone, sulfate and volcanic aerosols, and solar output) and observed sea surface temperature (SST) forcing of global December–February atmospheric circulation trends during the second half of the twentieth century are investigated by means of experiments with an atmospheric general circulation model, Community Atmospheric Model, version 3 (CAM3). The model experiments are conducted by specifying the observed time-varying SSTs and atmospheric radiative quantities individually and in combination. This approach allows the authors to isolate the direct impact of each type of forcing agent as well as to evaluate their combined effect and the degree to which their impacts are additive. CAM3 realistically simulates the global patterns of sea level pressure and 500-hPa geopotential height trends when both forcings are specified. SST forcing and direct atmospheric radiative forcing drive distinctive circulation responses that contribute about equally to the global pattern of circulation trends. These distinctive circulation responses are approximately additive and partially offsetting. Atmospheric radiative changes directly drive the strengthening and poleward shift of the midlatitude westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere (and to a lesser extent may contribute to those over the Atlantic–Eurasian sector in the Northern Hemisphere), whereas SST trends (specifically those in the tropics) are responsible for the intensification of the Aleutian low and weakening of the tropical Walker circulation. Discrepancies between the atmospheric circulation trends simulated by CAM3 and Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3), a coupled model driven by the same atmospheric radiative forcing as CAM3, are traced to differences in their tropical SST trends: in particular, a 60% weaker warming of the tropical Indo-Pacific in the CCSM3 ensemble mean than in nature.

* The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation

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

Abstract

The relative roles of direct atmospheric radiative forcing (due to observed changes in well-mixed greenhouse gases, tropospheric and stratospheric ozone, sulfate and volcanic aerosols, and solar output) and observed sea surface temperature (SST) forcing of global December–February atmospheric circulation trends during the second half of the twentieth century are investigated by means of experiments with an atmospheric general circulation model, Community Atmospheric Model, version 3 (CAM3). The model experiments are conducted by specifying the observed time-varying SSTs and atmospheric radiative quantities individually and in combination. This approach allows the authors to isolate the direct impact of each type of forcing agent as well as to evaluate their combined effect and the degree to which their impacts are additive. CAM3 realistically simulates the global patterns of sea level pressure and 500-hPa geopotential height trends when both forcings are specified. SST forcing and direct atmospheric radiative forcing drive distinctive circulation responses that contribute about equally to the global pattern of circulation trends. These distinctive circulation responses are approximately additive and partially offsetting. Atmospheric radiative changes directly drive the strengthening and poleward shift of the midlatitude westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere (and to a lesser extent may contribute to those over the Atlantic–Eurasian sector in the Northern Hemisphere), whereas SST trends (specifically those in the tropics) are responsible for the intensification of the Aleutian low and weakening of the tropical Walker circulation. Discrepancies between the atmospheric circulation trends simulated by CAM3 and Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3), a coupled model driven by the same atmospheric radiative forcing as CAM3, are traced to differences in their tropical SST trends: in particular, a 60% weaker warming of the tropical Indo-Pacific in the CCSM3 ensemble mean than in nature.

* The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation

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

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