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Projected Changes in the Seasonal Cycle of Surface Temperature

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  • 1 Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia University, New York, New York
  • | 2 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New York
  • | 3 Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, New York, New York
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Abstract

When forced with increasing greenhouse gases, global climate models project a delay in the phase and a reduction in the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of surface temperature, expressed as later minimum and maximum annual temperatures and greater warming in winter than in summer. Most of the global mean changes come from the high latitudes, especially over the ocean. All 24 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 models agree on these changes and, over the twenty-first century, average a phase delay of 5 days and an amplitude decrease of 5% for the global mean ocean surface temperature. Evidence is provided that the changes are mainly driven by sea ice loss: as sea ice melts during the twenty-first century, the previously unexposed open ocean increases the effective heat capacity of the surface layer, slowing and damping the temperature response. From the tropics to the midlatitudes, changes in phase and amplitude are smaller and less spatially uniform than near the poles but are still prevalent in the models. These regions experience a small phase delay but an amplitude increase of the surface temperature cycle, a combination that is inconsistent with changes to the effective heat capacity of the system. The authors propose that changes in this region are controlled by changes in surface heat fluxes.

Corresponding author address: John G. Dwyer, Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia University, 500 W. 120th St., New York, NY 10027. E-mail: jgd2102@columbia.edu

Abstract

When forced with increasing greenhouse gases, global climate models project a delay in the phase and a reduction in the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of surface temperature, expressed as later minimum and maximum annual temperatures and greater warming in winter than in summer. Most of the global mean changes come from the high latitudes, especially over the ocean. All 24 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 models agree on these changes and, over the twenty-first century, average a phase delay of 5 days and an amplitude decrease of 5% for the global mean ocean surface temperature. Evidence is provided that the changes are mainly driven by sea ice loss: as sea ice melts during the twenty-first century, the previously unexposed open ocean increases the effective heat capacity of the surface layer, slowing and damping the temperature response. From the tropics to the midlatitudes, changes in phase and amplitude are smaller and less spatially uniform than near the poles but are still prevalent in the models. These regions experience a small phase delay but an amplitude increase of the surface temperature cycle, a combination that is inconsistent with changes to the effective heat capacity of the system. The authors propose that changes in this region are controlled by changes in surface heat fluxes.

Corresponding author address: John G. Dwyer, Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia University, 500 W. 120th St., New York, NY 10027. E-mail: jgd2102@columbia.edu
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