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Simulation Errors Associated with the Neglect of Oceanic Salinity in an Atmospheric GCM

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  • 1 Laboratory for Atmospheres, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
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Abstract

In all the atmospheric general circulation models (GCMs) at the Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres (GLA), the influence of oceanic salinity on the saturation vapor pressure of seawater is ignored. Since the relative humidity in the oceanic boundary layer is generally high while the saturation vapor pressure of seawater is lowered by salinity, its neglect could have a nontrivial influence on the near-surface specific humidity gradient, a primary determinant of oceanic evaporation. Such an approximation might effect the simulated circulation and rainfall systematically. To evaluate this idea, we carried out a 5-yr-long salinity simulation (S) with the GLA GCM in which the influence of salinity on the saturation vapor pressure of seawater was included. Corresponding to this, a control simulation (C) with the GLA GCM in which the salinity effect was ignored was also available. Analyses of S-minus-C fields have shown some evidence of discernible systematic errors in the global evaporation, boundary layer specific humidity, and several key parameters that affect the onset of moist convection, for example, convective available potential energy. Several other systematic effects are also evident even though they remain small compared to the interannual variability of climate. The systematic interactions caused by the neglect of salinity are evidently spurious, and even though the final outcome is less dramatic than anticipated originally, several persistent systematic errors can be noted in the 5-yr mean fields. Based on these results, we infer that coupled ocean–atmosphere models that ignore the influence of salinity on ocean evaporation might also benefit from the salinity correction. Indeed, the correction is so trivial to include, its neglect in the modern state-of-the-art GCMs is unwarranted.

*Corresponding author address: Y. C. Sud, Laboratory for Atmospheres Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771. sud@climate.gsfc.nasa.gov

Abstract

In all the atmospheric general circulation models (GCMs) at the Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres (GLA), the influence of oceanic salinity on the saturation vapor pressure of seawater is ignored. Since the relative humidity in the oceanic boundary layer is generally high while the saturation vapor pressure of seawater is lowered by salinity, its neglect could have a nontrivial influence on the near-surface specific humidity gradient, a primary determinant of oceanic evaporation. Such an approximation might effect the simulated circulation and rainfall systematically. To evaluate this idea, we carried out a 5-yr-long salinity simulation (S) with the GLA GCM in which the influence of salinity on the saturation vapor pressure of seawater was included. Corresponding to this, a control simulation (C) with the GLA GCM in which the salinity effect was ignored was also available. Analyses of S-minus-C fields have shown some evidence of discernible systematic errors in the global evaporation, boundary layer specific humidity, and several key parameters that affect the onset of moist convection, for example, convective available potential energy. Several other systematic effects are also evident even though they remain small compared to the interannual variability of climate. The systematic interactions caused by the neglect of salinity are evidently spurious, and even though the final outcome is less dramatic than anticipated originally, several persistent systematic errors can be noted in the 5-yr mean fields. Based on these results, we infer that coupled ocean–atmosphere models that ignore the influence of salinity on ocean evaporation might also benefit from the salinity correction. Indeed, the correction is so trivial to include, its neglect in the modern state-of-the-art GCMs is unwarranted.

*Corresponding author address: Y. C. Sud, Laboratory for Atmospheres Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771. sud@climate.gsfc.nasa.gov

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