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Elements of the Dynamical Response to Climate Change over the Mediterranean

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  • 1 Ralph M. Parsons Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • 2 Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Future climate simulations indicate that the Mediterranean Basin will experience large low-level circulation changes during winter, characterized by a strong anomalous ridge that drives a regional precipitation decline. Previous research highlighted how shifts in stationary wave structure and the atmospheric response to reduced warming of the Mediterranean Sea relative to land could explain the development of this anomalous pressure high. Here, we expand on these results and provide new arguments for why and how the Mediterranean is projected to experience large circulation changes during winter. First, we find that zonal asymmetries in the vertical structure of stationary waves are important to explain the enhanced circulation response in the region and that these asymmetries are related through the external mode to the vertical structure of the mean zonal wind. Second, in winter, the Mediterranean is located just to the north of the Hadley cell edge and consequently is relatively free of large-scale descent; together with low near-surface static stability above the sea, this condition allows the weaker warming trend above the sea to propagate to the low troposphere and trigger a major circulation response. During summer, however, remotely forced descent and strong static stability prevent the cooling anomaly from expanding upward. Most of the intermodel scatter in the projected low-level circulation response in winter is related to the spread in upper-tropospheric dynamical trends. Importantly, because climate models exhibit too much vertical coherence over the Mediterranean, they likely overestimate the sensitivity of Mediterranean near-surface circulation to large-scale dynamical changes.

Current affiliation: Institute of Geography, Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-20-0429.s1.

© 2021 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: A. Tuel, atuel@alum.mit.edu

Abstract

Future climate simulations indicate that the Mediterranean Basin will experience large low-level circulation changes during winter, characterized by a strong anomalous ridge that drives a regional precipitation decline. Previous research highlighted how shifts in stationary wave structure and the atmospheric response to reduced warming of the Mediterranean Sea relative to land could explain the development of this anomalous pressure high. Here, we expand on these results and provide new arguments for why and how the Mediterranean is projected to experience large circulation changes during winter. First, we find that zonal asymmetries in the vertical structure of stationary waves are important to explain the enhanced circulation response in the region and that these asymmetries are related through the external mode to the vertical structure of the mean zonal wind. Second, in winter, the Mediterranean is located just to the north of the Hadley cell edge and consequently is relatively free of large-scale descent; together with low near-surface static stability above the sea, this condition allows the weaker warming trend above the sea to propagate to the low troposphere and trigger a major circulation response. During summer, however, remotely forced descent and strong static stability prevent the cooling anomaly from expanding upward. Most of the intermodel scatter in the projected low-level circulation response in winter is related to the spread in upper-tropospheric dynamical trends. Importantly, because climate models exhibit too much vertical coherence over the Mediterranean, they likely overestimate the sensitivity of Mediterranean near-surface circulation to large-scale dynamical changes.

Current affiliation: Institute of Geography, Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-20-0429.s1.

© 2021 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: A. Tuel, atuel@alum.mit.edu

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