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The Role of Tropical Interbasin SST Gradients in Forcing Walker Circulation Trends

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  • 1 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 2 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, and Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

The effects of externally forced tropical sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies on long-term Walker circulation changes are investigated through numerical atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) experiments. In response to the observed tropics-wide SST trend, which exhibits a prominent interbasin warming contrast (IBWC) with smaller warming in the Pacific than the Indian and Atlantic Oceans that includes a weak La Niña–like pattern in the equatorial Pacific, pronounced low-level easterly anomalies emerge over the equatorial Pacific. Through sensitivity experiments, the intensification of the Pacific trade winds (PTWs) is attributable to the IBWC, whereas the slightly enhanced zonal SST gradient within the equatorial Pacific plays a small role relative to the observed IBWC. It is further demonstrated that the greater Indian Ocean warming forces low-level easterly anomalies over the entire equatorial Pacific, while the greater tropical Atlantic warming-driven enhancement of PTWs is located over the central equatorial Pacific. In contrast to observations, a negligible IBWC emerges in the tropical SST trends of CMIP5 historical simulations due to a strong El Niño–like warming in the tropical Pacific. Lacking the observed IBWC (and the observed enhancement of the zonal SST gradient within the equatorial Pacific), the PTWs in the CMIP5 ensemble can only weaken.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0349.s1.

Corresponding author e-mail: Lei Zhang, lezh8230@colorado.edu

Abstract

The effects of externally forced tropical sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies on long-term Walker circulation changes are investigated through numerical atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) experiments. In response to the observed tropics-wide SST trend, which exhibits a prominent interbasin warming contrast (IBWC) with smaller warming in the Pacific than the Indian and Atlantic Oceans that includes a weak La Niña–like pattern in the equatorial Pacific, pronounced low-level easterly anomalies emerge over the equatorial Pacific. Through sensitivity experiments, the intensification of the Pacific trade winds (PTWs) is attributable to the IBWC, whereas the slightly enhanced zonal SST gradient within the equatorial Pacific plays a small role relative to the observed IBWC. It is further demonstrated that the greater Indian Ocean warming forces low-level easterly anomalies over the entire equatorial Pacific, while the greater tropical Atlantic warming-driven enhancement of PTWs is located over the central equatorial Pacific. In contrast to observations, a negligible IBWC emerges in the tropical SST trends of CMIP5 historical simulations due to a strong El Niño–like warming in the tropical Pacific. Lacking the observed IBWC (and the observed enhancement of the zonal SST gradient within the equatorial Pacific), the PTWs in the CMIP5 ensemble can only weaken.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0349.s1.

Corresponding author e-mail: Lei Zhang, lezh8230@colorado.edu

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