Diagnosing Mechanisms of Hydrologic Change under Global Warming in the CESM1 Large Ensemble

Nicholas Siler aCollege of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

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David B. Bonan bCalifornia Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

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Aaron Donohoe cPolar Science Center/Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Abstract

Global warming is expected to cause significant changes in the pattern of precipitation minus evaporation (PE), which represents the net flux of water from the atmosphere to the surface or, equivalently, the convergence of moisture transport within the atmosphere. In most global climate model simulations, the pattern of PE change resembles an amplification of the historical pattern—a tendency known as “wet gets wetter, dry gets drier.” However, models also predict significant departures from this approximation that are not well understood. Here, we introduce a new method of decomposing the pattern of PE change into contributions from various dynamic and thermodynamic mechanisms and use it to investigate the response of PE to global warming within the CESM1 Large Ensemble. In contrast to previous decompositions of PE change, ours incorporates changes not only in the monthly means of atmospheric winds and moisture, but also in their temporal variability, allowing us to isolate the hydrologic impacts of changes in the mean circulation, transient eddies, relative humidity, and the spatial and temporal distributions of temperature. In general, we find that changes in the mean circulation primarily control the PE response in the tropics, while temperature changes dominate at higher latitudes. Although the relative importance of specific mechanisms varies by region, at the global scale departures from the wet-gets-wetter approximation over land are primarily due to changes in the temperature lapse rate, while changes in the mean circulation, relative humidity, and horizontal temperature gradients play a secondary role.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Nicholas Siler, nick.siler@oregonstate.edu

Abstract

Global warming is expected to cause significant changes in the pattern of precipitation minus evaporation (PE), which represents the net flux of water from the atmosphere to the surface or, equivalently, the convergence of moisture transport within the atmosphere. In most global climate model simulations, the pattern of PE change resembles an amplification of the historical pattern—a tendency known as “wet gets wetter, dry gets drier.” However, models also predict significant departures from this approximation that are not well understood. Here, we introduce a new method of decomposing the pattern of PE change into contributions from various dynamic and thermodynamic mechanisms and use it to investigate the response of PE to global warming within the CESM1 Large Ensemble. In contrast to previous decompositions of PE change, ours incorporates changes not only in the monthly means of atmospheric winds and moisture, but also in their temporal variability, allowing us to isolate the hydrologic impacts of changes in the mean circulation, transient eddies, relative humidity, and the spatial and temporal distributions of temperature. In general, we find that changes in the mean circulation primarily control the PE response in the tropics, while temperature changes dominate at higher latitudes. Although the relative importance of specific mechanisms varies by region, at the global scale departures from the wet-gets-wetter approximation over land are primarily due to changes in the temperature lapse rate, while changes in the mean circulation, relative humidity, and horizontal temperature gradients play a secondary role.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Nicholas Siler, nick.siler@oregonstate.edu

Supplementary Materials

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