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The Seasonal Cycle of Atmospheric Heating and Temperature

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  • 1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • | 2 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

The seasonal cycle of the heating of the atmosphere is divided into a component due to direct solar absorption in the atmosphere and a component due to the flux of energy from the surface to the atmosphere via latent, sensible, and radiative heat fluxes. Both observations and coupled climate models are analyzed. The vast majority of the seasonal heating of the northern extratropics (78% in the observations and 67% in the model average) is due to atmospheric shortwave absorption. In the southern extratropics, the seasonal heating of the atmosphere is entirely due to atmospheric shortwave absorption in both the observations and the models, and the surface heat flux opposes the seasonal heating of the atmosphere. The seasonal cycle of atmospheric temperature is surface amplified in the northern extratropics and nearly barotropic in the Southern Hemisphere; in both cases, the vertical profile of temperature reflects the source of the seasonal heating.

In the northern extratropics, the seasonal cycle of atmospheric heating over land differs markedly from that over the ocean. Over the land, the surface energy fluxes complement the driving absorbed shortwave flux; over the ocean, they oppose the absorbed shortwave flux. This gives rise to large seasonal differences in the temperature of the atmosphere over land and ocean. Downgradient temperature advection by the mean westerly winds damps the seasonal cycle of heating of the atmosphere over the land and amplifies it over the ocean. The seasonal cycle in the zonal energy transport is 4.1 PW.

Finally, the authors examine the change in the seasonal cycle of atmospheric heating in 11 models from phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3) due to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide from preindustrial concentrations. The seasonal heating of the troposphere is everywhere enhanced by increased shortwave absorption by water vapor; it is reduced where sea ice has been replaced by ocean, which increases the effective heat storage reservoir of the climate system and thereby reduces the seasonal magnitude of energy fluxes between the surface and the atmosphere. As a result, the seasonal amplitude of temperature increases in the upper troposphere (where atmospheric shortwave absorption increases) and decreases at the surface (where the ice melts).

Corresponding author address: Aaron Donohoe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Rm. 54-918, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139-4307. E-mail: thedhoe@mit.edu

Abstract

The seasonal cycle of the heating of the atmosphere is divided into a component due to direct solar absorption in the atmosphere and a component due to the flux of energy from the surface to the atmosphere via latent, sensible, and radiative heat fluxes. Both observations and coupled climate models are analyzed. The vast majority of the seasonal heating of the northern extratropics (78% in the observations and 67% in the model average) is due to atmospheric shortwave absorption. In the southern extratropics, the seasonal heating of the atmosphere is entirely due to atmospheric shortwave absorption in both the observations and the models, and the surface heat flux opposes the seasonal heating of the atmosphere. The seasonal cycle of atmospheric temperature is surface amplified in the northern extratropics and nearly barotropic in the Southern Hemisphere; in both cases, the vertical profile of temperature reflects the source of the seasonal heating.

In the northern extratropics, the seasonal cycle of atmospheric heating over land differs markedly from that over the ocean. Over the land, the surface energy fluxes complement the driving absorbed shortwave flux; over the ocean, they oppose the absorbed shortwave flux. This gives rise to large seasonal differences in the temperature of the atmosphere over land and ocean. Downgradient temperature advection by the mean westerly winds damps the seasonal cycle of heating of the atmosphere over the land and amplifies it over the ocean. The seasonal cycle in the zonal energy transport is 4.1 PW.

Finally, the authors examine the change in the seasonal cycle of atmospheric heating in 11 models from phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3) due to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide from preindustrial concentrations. The seasonal heating of the troposphere is everywhere enhanced by increased shortwave absorption by water vapor; it is reduced where sea ice has been replaced by ocean, which increases the effective heat storage reservoir of the climate system and thereby reduces the seasonal magnitude of energy fluxes between the surface and the atmosphere. As a result, the seasonal amplitude of temperature increases in the upper troposphere (where atmospheric shortwave absorption increases) and decreases at the surface (where the ice melts).

Corresponding author address: Aaron Donohoe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Rm. 54-918, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139-4307. E-mail: thedhoe@mit.edu
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