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The Signature of Shallow Circulations, Not Cloud Radiative Effects, in the Spatial Distribution of Tropical Precipitation

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  • 1 Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany
  • | 2 LMD/IPSL, CNRS, Sorbonne Universities, Paris, France
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Abstract

Recent research suggests cloud–radiation interaction as key for intermodel differences in tropical precipitation change with warming. This motivates the hypothesis that intermodel differences in the climatology of precipitation, and in its response to warming, should reduce in the absence of cloud–radiation interaction. The hypothesis is explored with the aquaplanet simulations by the Clouds On-Off Klimate Intercomparison Experiment performed by seven general circulation models, wherein atmospheric cloud radiative effects (ACREs) are active (ACRE-on) and inactive (ACRE-off). Contrary to expectation, models’ climatology of tropical precipitation are more diverse in the ACRE-off experiments, as measured by the position of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), the subtropical precipitation minima, and the associated organization of the tropical circulation. Also the direction of the latitudinal shift of the ITCZ differs more in simulations with inactive cloud radiative effects. Nevertheless, both in ACRE-on and ACRE-off, the same relationship between tropical precipitation and the mean vertical velocity (zonally, temporally, and vertically averaged) emerges in all models. An analysis framework based on the moist static energy budget and used in the moisture space is then developed to understand what controls the distribution of the mean vertical velocity. The results suggest that intermodel differences in tropical circulation and zonal-mean precipitation patterns are most strongly associated with intermodel differences in the representation of shallow circulations that connect dry and moist regions.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0230.s1.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Bjorn Stevens, bjorn.stevens@mpimet.mpg.de

Abstract

Recent research suggests cloud–radiation interaction as key for intermodel differences in tropical precipitation change with warming. This motivates the hypothesis that intermodel differences in the climatology of precipitation, and in its response to warming, should reduce in the absence of cloud–radiation interaction. The hypothesis is explored with the aquaplanet simulations by the Clouds On-Off Klimate Intercomparison Experiment performed by seven general circulation models, wherein atmospheric cloud radiative effects (ACREs) are active (ACRE-on) and inactive (ACRE-off). Contrary to expectation, models’ climatology of tropical precipitation are more diverse in the ACRE-off experiments, as measured by the position of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), the subtropical precipitation minima, and the associated organization of the tropical circulation. Also the direction of the latitudinal shift of the ITCZ differs more in simulations with inactive cloud radiative effects. Nevertheless, both in ACRE-on and ACRE-off, the same relationship between tropical precipitation and the mean vertical velocity (zonally, temporally, and vertically averaged) emerges in all models. An analysis framework based on the moist static energy budget and used in the moisture space is then developed to understand what controls the distribution of the mean vertical velocity. The results suggest that intermodel differences in tropical circulation and zonal-mean precipitation patterns are most strongly associated with intermodel differences in the representation of shallow circulations that connect dry and moist regions.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0230.s1.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Bjorn Stevens, bjorn.stevens@mpimet.mpg.de

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