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Natalie P. Thomas, Michael G. Bosilovich, Allison B. Marquardt Collow, Randal D. Koster, Siegfried D. Schubert, Amin Dezfuli, and Sarith P. Mahanama

Abstract

Heat waves are extreme climate events that have the potential to cause immense stress on human health, agriculture, and energy systems, so understanding the processes leading to their onset is crucial. There is no single accepted definition for heat waves, but they are generally described as a sustained amount of time over which temperature exceeds a local threshold. Multiple different temperature variables are potentially relevant, because high values of both daily maximum and minimum temperatures can be detrimental to human health. In this study, we focus explicitly on the different mechanisms associated with summertime heat waves manifested during daytime hours versus nighttime hours over the contiguous United States. Heat waves are examined using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2). Over 1980–2018, the increase in the number of heat-wave days per summer was generally stronger for nighttime heat-wave days than for daytime heat-wave days, with localized regions of significant positive trends. Processes linked with daytime and nighttime heat waves are identified through composite analysis of precipitation, soil moisture, clouds, humidity, and fluxes of heat and moisture. Daytime heat waves are associated with dry conditions, reduced cloud cover, and increased sensible heating. Mechanisms leading to nighttime heat waves differ regionally across the United States, but they are typically associated with increased clouds, humidity, and/or low-level temperature advection. In the midwestern United States, enhanced moisture is transported from the Gulf of Mexico during nighttime heat waves.

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Laura M. Hinkelman

Abstract

The representation of the long-term radiative energy budgets in NASA’s MERRA and MERRA-2 reanalyses has been evaluated, emphasizing changes associated with the reanalysis system update. Data from the CERES EBAF Edition 2.8 satellite product over 2001–15 were used as a reference. For both MERRA and MERRA-2, the climatological global means of most TOA radiative flux terms agree to within ~3 W m−2 of EBAF. However, MERRA-2’s all-sky reflected shortwave flux is ~7 W m−2 higher than either MERRA or EBAF’s, resulting in a net TOA flux imbalance of −4 W m−2. At the surface, all-sky downward longwave fluxes are problematic for both reanalyses, while high clear-sky downward shortwave fluxes indicate that their atmospheres are too transmissive. Although MERRA-2’s individual all-sky flux terms agree better with EBAF, its net flux agreement is worse (−8.3 vs −3.3 W m−2 for MERRA) because MERRA benefits from cancellation of errors. Analysis by region and surface type gives mixed outcomes. The results consistently indicate that clouds are overrepresented over the tropical oceans in both reanalyses, particularly MERRA-2, and somewhat underrepresented in marine stratocumulus areas. MERRA-2 also exhibits signs of excess cloudiness in the Southern Ocean. Notable discrepancies occur in the polar regions, where the effects of snow and ice cover are important. In most cases, MERRA-2 better represents variability and trends in the global mean radiative fluxes over the period of analysis. Overall, the performance of MERRA-2 relative to MERRA is mixed; there is still room for improvement in the radiative fluxes in this family of reanalysis products.

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Richard I. Cullather and Sophie M. J. Nowicki

Abstract

Melt area is one of the most reliably monitored variables associated with surface conditions over the full Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS). Surface melt is also an important indicator of surface mass balance and has potential relevance to the ice sheet’s global sea level contribution. Melt events are known to be spatially heterogeneous and have varying time scales. To understand the forcing mechanisms, it is necessary to examine the relation between the existing conditions and melt area on the time scales that melt is observed. Here, the authors conduct a regression analysis of atmospheric reanalysis variables including sea level pressure, near-surface winds, and components of the surface energy budget with surface melt. The regression analysis finds spatial heterogeneity in the associated atmospheric circulation conditions. For basins in the southern GrIS, there is an association between melt area and high pressure located south of the Denmark Strait, which allows for southerly flow over the western half of the GrIS. Instantaneous surface melt over northern basins is also associated with low pressure over the central Arctic. Basins associated with persistent summer melt in the southern and western GrIS are associated with the presence of an enhanced cloud cover, a resulting decreased downwelling solar radiative flux, and an enhanced downwelling longwave radiative flux. This contrasts with basins to the north and east, where an increased downwelling solar radiative flux plays a more important role in the onset of a melt event. The analysis emphasizes the importance of daily variability in synoptic conditions and their preferred association with melt events.

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Bin Guan, Duane E. Waliser, and F. Martin Ralph

Abstract

A recent study presented nearly two decades of airborne atmospheric river (AR) observations and concluded that, on average, an individual AR transports ~5 × 108 kg s−1 of water vapor. The study here compares those cases to ARs independently identified in reanalyses based on a refined algorithm that can detect less well-structured ARs, with the dual-purpose of validating reanalysis ARs against observations and evaluating dropsonde representativeness relative to reanalyses. The first comparison is based on 21 dropsonde-observed ARs in the northeastern Pacific and those closely matched, but not required to be exactly collocated, in ERA-Interim (MERRA-2), which indicates a mean error of −2% (−8%) in AR width and +3% (−1%) in total integrated water vapor transport (TIVT) and supports the effectiveness of the AR detection algorithm applied to the reanalyses. The second comparison is between the 21 dropsonde ARs and ~6000 ARs detected in ERA-Interim (MERRA-2) over the same domain, which indicates a mean difference of 5% (20%) in AR width and 5% (14%) in TIVT and suggests the limited number of dropsonde observations is a highly (reasonably) representative sampling of ARs in the northeastern Pacific. Sensitivities of the comparison to seasonal and geographical variations in AR width/TIVT are also examined. The results provide a case where dedicated observational efforts in specific regions corroborate with global reanalyses in better characterizing the geometry and strength of ARs regionally and globally. The results also illustrate that the reanalysis depiction of ARs can help inform the selection of locations for future observational and modeling efforts.

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Clara S. Draper, Rolf H. Reichle, and Randal D. Koster

Abstract

In the Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications version 2 (MERRA-2) system the land is forced by replacing the model-generated precipitation with observed precipitation before it reaches the surface. This approach is motivated by the expectation that the resultant improvements in soil moisture will lead to improved land surface latent heating (LH). Here aspects of the MERRA-2 land surface energy budget and 2-m air temperatures are assessed. For global land annual averages, MERRA-2 appears to overestimate the LH (by 5 W m−2), the sensible heating (by 6 W m−2), and the downwelling shortwave radiation (by 14 W m−2) while underestimating the downwelling and upwelling (absolute) longwave radiation (by 10–15 W m−2 each). These results differ only slightly from those for NASA’s previous reanalysis, MERRA. Comparison to various gridded reference datasets over boreal summer (June–August) suggests that MERRA-2 has particularly large positive biases (>20 W m−2) where LH is energy limited and that these biases are associated with evaporative fraction biases rather than radiation biases. For time series of monthly means during boreal summer, the globally averaged anomaly correlations with reference data were improved from MERRA to MERRA-2, for LH (from 0.39 to 0.48 vs Global Land Evaporation Amsterdam Model data) and the daily maximum T2m (from 0.69 to 0.75 vs Climatic Research Unit data). In regions where is particularly sensitive to the precipitation corrections (including the central United States, the Sahel, and parts of South Asia), the changes in the are relatively large, suggesting that the observed precipitation influenced the performance.

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Gloria L. Manney and Michaela I. Hegglin

Abstract

Long-term changes in upper-tropospheric jet latitude, altitude, and strength are assessed for 1980–2014 using five modern reanalyses: MERRA, MERRA-2, ERA-Interim, JRA-55, and NCEP CFSR. Changes are computed from jet locations evaluated daily at each longitude to analyze regional and seasonal variations. The changes in subtropical and polar (eddy driven) jets are evaluated separately. Good agreement among the reanalyses in many regions and seasons provides confidence in the robustness of the diagnosed trends. Jet shifts show strong regional and seasonal variations, resulting in changes that are not robust in zonal or annual means. Robust changes in the subtropical jet indicate tropical widening over Africa except during Northern Hemisphere (NH) spring, and tropical narrowing over the eastern Pacific in NH winter. The Southern Hemisphere (SH) polar jet shows a robust poleward shift, while the NH polar jet shifts equatorward in most regions/seasons. Both subtropical and polar jet altitudes typically increase; these changes are more robust in the NH than in the SH. Subtropical jet wind speeds have generally increased in winter and decreased in summer, whereas polar jet wind speeds have weakened (strengthened) over Africa and eastern Asia (elsewhere) during winter in both hemispheres. The Asian monsoon has increased in area and appears to have shifted slightly westward toward Africa. The results herein highlight the importance of understanding regional and seasonal variations when quantifying long-term changes in jet locations, the mechanisms for those changes, and their potential human impacts. Comparison of multiple reanalyses is a valuable tool for assessing the robustness of jet changes.

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C. A. Randles, A. M. da Silva, V. Buchard, P. R. Colarco, A. Darmenov, R. Govindaraju, A. Smirnov, B. Holben, R. Ferrare, J. Hair, Y. Shinozuka, and C. J. Flynn

Abstract

The Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), updates NASA’s previous satellite-era (1980 onward) reanalysis system to include additional observations and improvements to the Goddard Earth Observing System, version 5 (GEOS-5), Earth system model. As a major step toward a full Integrated Earth Systems Analysis (IESA), in addition to meteorological observations, MERRA-2 now includes assimilation of aerosol optical depth (AOD) from various ground- and space-based remote sensing platforms. Here, in the first of a pair of studies, the MERRA-2 aerosol assimilation is documented, including a description of the prognostic model (GEOS-5 coupled to the GOCART aerosol module), aerosol emissions, and the quality control of ingested observations. Initial validation and evaluation of the analyzed AOD fields are provided using independent observations from ground, aircraft, and shipborne instruments. The positive impact of the AOD assimilation on simulated aerosols is demonstrated by comparing MERRA-2 aerosol fields to an identical control simulation that does not include AOD assimilation. After showing the AOD evaluation, this paper takes a first look at aerosol–climate interactions by examining the shortwave, clear-sky aerosol direct radiative effect. The companion paper (Part II) evaluates and validates available MERRA-2 aerosol properties not directly impacted by the AOD assimilation (e.g., aerosol vertical distribution and absorption). Importantly, while highlighting the skill of the MERRA-2 aerosol assimilation products, both studies point out caveats that must be considered when using this new reanalysis product for future studies of aerosols and their interactions with weather and climate.

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V. Buchard, C. A. Randles, A. M. da Silva, A. Darmenov, P. R. Colarco, R. Govindaraju, R. Ferrare, J. Hair, A. J. Beyersdorf, L. D. Ziemba, and H. Yu

Abstract

The Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), is NASA’s latest reanalysis for the satellite era (1980 onward) using the Goddard Earth Observing System, version 5 (GEOS-5), Earth system model. MERRA-2 provides several improvements over its predecessor (MERRA-1), including aerosol assimilation for the entire period. MERRA-2 assimilates bias-corrected aerosol optical depth (AOD) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer instruments. Additionally, MERRA-2 assimilates (non bias corrected) AOD from the Multiangle Imaging SpectroRadiometer over bright surfaces and AOD from Aerosol Robotic Network sunphotometer stations. This paper, the second of a pair, summarizes the efforts to assess the quality of the MERRA-2 aerosol products. First, MERRA-2 aerosols are evaluated using independent observations. It is shown that the MERRA-2 absorption aerosol optical depth (AAOD) and ultraviolet aerosol index (AI) compare well with Ozone Monitoring Instrument observations. Next, aerosol vertical structure and surface fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are evaluated using available satellite, aircraft, and ground-based observations. While MERRA-2 generally compares well to these observations, the assimilation cannot correct for all deficiencies in the model (e.g., missing emissions). Such deficiencies can explain many of the biases with observations. Finally, a focus is placed on several major aerosol events to illustrate successes and weaknesses of the AOD assimilation: the Mount Pinatubo eruption, a Saharan dust transport episode, the California Rim Fire, and an extreme pollution event over China. The article concludes with a summary that points to best practices for using the MERRA-2 aerosol reanalysis in future studies.

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Lawrence Coy, Paul A. Newman, Steven Pawson, and Leslie R. Lait

Abstract

A significant disruption of the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) occurred during the Northern Hemisphere (NH) winter of 2015/16. Since the QBO is the major wind variability source in the tropical lower stratosphere and influences the rate of ascent of air entering the stratosphere, understanding the cause of this singular disruption may provide new insights into the variability and sensitivity of the global climate system. Here this disruptive event is examined using global reanalysis winds and temperatures from 1980 to 2016. Results reveal record maxima in tropical horizontal momentum fluxes and wave forcing of the tropical zonal mean zonal wind over the NH 2015/16 winter. The Rossby waves responsible for these record tropical values appear to originate in the NH and were focused strongly into the tropics at the 40-hPa level. Two additional NH winters, 1987/88 and 2010/11, were also found to have large tropical lower-stratospheric momentum flux divergences; however, the QBO westerlies did not change to easterlies in those cases.

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Kevin Hodges, Alison Cobb, and Pier Luigi Vidale

Abstract

Tropical cyclones (TCs) are identified and tracked in six recent reanalysis datasets and compared with those from the IBTrACS best-track archive. Results indicate that nearly every cyclone present in IBTrACS over the period 1979–2012 can be found in all six reanalyses using a tracking and matching approach. However, TC intensities are significantly underrepresented in the reanalyses compared to the observations. Applying a typical objective TC identification scheme, it is found that the largest uncertainties in TC identification occur for the weaker storms; this is exacerbated by uncertainties in the observations for weak storms and lack of consistency in operational procedures. For example, certain types of storms, such as tropical depressions, subtropical cyclones, and monsoon depressions, are not included in the best-track data for all reporting agencies. There are definite improvements in how well TCs are represented in more recent, higher-resolution reanalyses; in particular MERRA-2 is comparable with the NCEP-CFSR and JRA-55 reanalyses, which perform significantly better than the older MERRA reanalysis.

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