The Sensitivity of Persistent Geopotential Anomalies to the Climate of a Moist Channel Model

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  • 1 North Carolina State University; Raleigh, NC
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Abstract

High-impact events such as heat waves and droughts are often associated with persistent positive geopotential height anomalies (PAs). Understanding how PA activity will change in a future warmer climate is therefore fundamental to projecting associated changes in weather and climate extremes. This is a complex problem because the dynamics of PAs and their associated blocking activity are still poorly understood. Furthermore, climate-change influences on PA activity may be geographically dependent and encompass competing influences. To expose the salient impacts of climate change, we use an oceanic channel configuration of the Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF) in a bivariate experiment focused on changes in environmental temperature, moisture, and baroclinicity. The 500-hPa wind speed and flow variability are found to increase with increasing temperature and baroclinicity, driven by increases in latent heat release and a stronger virtual temperature gradient. Changes to 500-hPa sinuosity are negligible. PAs are objectively identified at the 500-hPa level using an anomaly threshold method. When using a fixed threshold, PA trends indicate increased activity and strength with warming, but decreased activity and strength with Arctic amplification. Use of a climate-relative threshold hides these trends and highlights the importance of accurate characterization of the mean flow. Changes in PA activity mirror corresponding changes in 500-hPa flow variability and are found to be attributable to changes in three distinct dynamical mechanisms: baroclinic wave activity, virtual temperature effects, and latent heat release.

Corresponding author address: Gregory Tierney, Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, 1136 Jordan Hall, Raleigh, NC 27695. E-mail: getierne@ncsu.edu, ORCID: 0000-0001-9981-7552

Abstract

High-impact events such as heat waves and droughts are often associated with persistent positive geopotential height anomalies (PAs). Understanding how PA activity will change in a future warmer climate is therefore fundamental to projecting associated changes in weather and climate extremes. This is a complex problem because the dynamics of PAs and their associated blocking activity are still poorly understood. Furthermore, climate-change influences on PA activity may be geographically dependent and encompass competing influences. To expose the salient impacts of climate change, we use an oceanic channel configuration of the Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF) in a bivariate experiment focused on changes in environmental temperature, moisture, and baroclinicity. The 500-hPa wind speed and flow variability are found to increase with increasing temperature and baroclinicity, driven by increases in latent heat release and a stronger virtual temperature gradient. Changes to 500-hPa sinuosity are negligible. PAs are objectively identified at the 500-hPa level using an anomaly threshold method. When using a fixed threshold, PA trends indicate increased activity and strength with warming, but decreased activity and strength with Arctic amplification. Use of a climate-relative threshold hides these trends and highlights the importance of accurate characterization of the mean flow. Changes in PA activity mirror corresponding changes in 500-hPa flow variability and are found to be attributable to changes in three distinct dynamical mechanisms: baroclinic wave activity, virtual temperature effects, and latent heat release.

Corresponding author address: Gregory Tierney, Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, 1136 Jordan Hall, Raleigh, NC 27695. E-mail: getierne@ncsu.edu, ORCID: 0000-0001-9981-7552
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