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David B. Bonan
,
Nicholas Siler
,
Gerard H. Roe
, and
Kyle C. Armour

Abstract

The response of zonal-mean precipitation minus evaporation (PE) to global warming is investigated using a moist energy balance model (MEBM) with a simple Hadley cell parameterization. The MEBM accurately emulates zonal-mean PE change simulated by a suite of global climate models (GCMs) under greenhouse gas forcing. The MEBM also accounts for most of the intermodel differences in GCM PE change and better emulates GCM PE change when compared to the “wet-gets-wetter, dry-gets-drier” thermodynamic mechanism. The intermodel spread in PE change is attributed to intermodel differences in radiative feedbacks, which account for 60%–70% of the intermodel variance, with smaller contributions from radiative forcing and ocean heat uptake. Isolating the intermodel spread of feedbacks to specific regions shows that tropical feedbacks are the primary source of intermodel spread in zonal-mean PE change. The ability of the MEBM to emulate GCM PE change is further investigated using idealized feedback patterns. A less negative and narrowly peaked feedback pattern near the equator results in more atmospheric heating, which strengthens the Hadley cell circulation in the deep tropics through an enhanced poleward heat flux. This pattern also increases gross moist stability, which weakens the subtropical Hadley cell circulation. These two processes in unison increase PE in the deep tropics, decrease PE in the subtropics, and narrow the intertropical convergence zone. Additionally, a feedback pattern that produces polar-amplified warming partially reduces the poleward moisture flux by weakening the meridional temperature gradient. It is shown that changes to the Hadley cell circulation and the poleward moisture flux are crucial for understanding the pattern of GCM PE change under warming.

Significance Statement

Changes to the hydrological cycle over the twenty-first century are predicted to impact ecosystems and socioeconomic activities throughout the world. While it is broadly expected that dry regions will get drier and wet regions will get wetter, the magnitude and spatial structure of these changes remains uncertain. In this study, we use an idealized climate model, which assumes how energy is transported in the atmosphere, to understand the processes setting the pattern of precipitation and evaporation under global warming. We first use the idealized climate model to explain why comprehensive climate models predict different changes to precipitation and evaporation across a range of latitudes. We show this arises primarily from climate feedbacks, which act to amplify or dampen the amount of warming. Ocean heat uptake and radiative forcing play secondary roles but can account for a significant amount of the uncertainty in regions where ocean circulation influences the rate of warming. We further show that uncertainty in tropical feedbacks (mainly from clouds) affects changes to the hydrological cycle across a range of latitudes. We then show how the pattern of climate feedbacks affects how the patterns of precipitation and evaporation respond to climate change through a set of idealized experiments. These results show how the pattern of climate feedbacks impacts tropical hydrological changes by affecting the strength of the Hadley circulation and polar hydrological changes by affecting the transport of moisture to the high latitudes.

Free access
Aaron Donohoe
,
Kyle C. Armour
,
Gerard H. Roe
,
David S. Battisti
, and
Lily Hahn

Abstract

Meridional heat transport (MHT) is analyzed in ensembles of coupled climate models simulating climate states ranging from the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to quadrupled CO2. MHT is partitioned here into atmospheric (AHT) and implied oceanic (OHT) heat transports. In turn, AHT is partitioned into dry and moist energy transport by the meridional overturning circulation (MOC), transient eddy energy transport (TE), and stationary eddy energy transport (SE) using only monthly averaged model output that is typically archived. In all climate models examined, the maximum total MHT (AHT + OHT) is nearly climate-state invariant, except for a modest (4%, 0.3 PW) enhancement of MHT in the Northern Hemisphere (NH) during the LGM. However, the partitioning of MHT depends markedly on the climate state, and the changes in partitioning differ considerably among different climate models. In response to CO2 quadrupling, poleward implied OHT decreases, while AHT increases by a nearly compensating amount. The increase in annual-mean AHT is a smooth function of latitude but is due to a spatially inhomogeneous blend of changes in SE and TE that vary by season. During the LGM, the increase in wintertime SE transport in the NH midlatitudes exceeds the decrease in TE resulting in enhanced total AHT. Total AHT changes in the Southern Hemisphere (SH) are not significant. These results suggest that the net top-of-atmosphere radiative constraints on total MHT are relatively invariant to climate forcing due to nearly compensating changes in absorbed solar radiation and outgoing longwave radiation. However, the partitioning of MHT depends on detailed regional and seasonal factors.

Free access
Nicholas Siler
,
Adriana Bailey
,
Gerard H. Roe
,
Christo Buizert
,
Bradley Markle
, and
David Noone

Abstract

The stable isotope ratios of oxygen and hydrogen in polar ice cores are known to record environmental change, and they have been widely used as a paleothermometer. Although it is known to be a simplification, the relationship is often explained by invoking a single condensation pathway with progressive distillation to the temperature at the location of the ice core. In reality, the physical factors are complicated, and recent studies have identified robust aspects of the hydrologic cycle’s response to climate change that could influence the isotope–temperature relationship. In this study, we introduce a new zonal-mean isotope model derived from radiative transfer theory and incorporate it into a recently developed moist energy balance climate model (MEBM), thus providing an internally consistent representation of the physical coupling between temperature, hydrology, and isotope ratios in the zonal-mean climate. The isotope model reproduces the observed pattern of meteoric δ 18O in the modern climate and allows us to evaluate the relative importance of different processes for the temporal correlation between δ 18O and temperature at high latitudes. We find that the positive temporal correlation in polar ice cores is predominantly a result of suppressed high-latitude evaporation with cooling, rather than local temperature changes. The same mechanism also explains the difference in the strength of the isotope–temperature relationship between Greenland and Antarctica.

Full access
Nathan J. Steiger
,
Gregory J. Hakim
,
Eric J. Steig
,
David S. Battisti
, and
Gerard H. Roe

Abstract

The efficacy of a novel ensemble data assimilation (DA) technique is examined in the climate field reconstruction (CFR) of surface temperature. A minimalistic, computationally inexpensive DA technique is employed that requires only a static ensemble of climatologically plausible states. Pseudoproxy experiments are performed with both general circulation model (GCM) and Twentieth Century Reanalysis (20CR) data by reconstructing surface temperature fields from a sparse network of noisy pseudoproxies. The DA approach is compared to a conventional CFR approach based on principal component analysis (PCA) for experiments on global domains. DA outperforms PCA in reconstructing global-mean temperature in all experiments and is more consistent across experiments, with a range of time series correlations of 0.69–0.94 compared to 0.19–0.87 for the PCA method. DA improvements are even more evident in spatial reconstruction skill, especially in sparsely sampled pseudoproxy regions and for 20CR experiments. It is hypothesized that DA improves spatial reconstructions because it relies on coherent, spatially local temperature patterns, which remain robust even when glacial states are used to reconstruct nonglacial states and vice versa. These local relationships, as utilized by DA, appear to be more robust than the orthogonal patterns of variability utilized by PCA. Comparing results for GCM and 20CR data indicates that pseudoproxy experiments that rely solely on GCM data may give a false impression of reconstruction skill.

Full access
Tyler Cox
,
Aaron Donohoe
,
Kyle C. Armour
,
Dargan M. W. Frierson
, and
Gerard H. Roe

Abstract

We investigate the linear trends in meridional atmospheric heat transport (AHT) since 1980 in atmospheric reanalysis datasets, coupled climate models, and atmosphere-only climate models forced with historical sea surface temperatures. Trends in AHT are decomposed into contributions from three components of circulation: (i) transient eddies, (ii) stationary eddies, and (iii) the mean meridional circulation. All reanalyses and models agree on the pattern of AHT trends in the Southern Ocean, providing confidence in the trends in this region. There are robust increases in transient-eddy AHT magnitude in the Southern Ocean in the reanalyses, which are well replicated by the atmosphere-only models, while coupled models show smaller magnitude trends. This suggests that the pattern of sea surface temperature trends contributes to the transient-eddy AHT trends in this region. In the tropics, we find large differences between mean-meridional circulation AHT trends in models and the reanalyses, which we connect to discrepancies in tropical precipitation trends. In the Northern Hemisphere, we find less evidence of large-scale trends and more uncertainty, but note several regions with mismatches between models and the reanalyses that have dynamical explanations. Throughout this work we find strong compensation between the different components of AHT, most notably in the Southern Ocean where transient-eddy AHT trends are well compensated by trends in the mean-meridional circulation AHT, resulting in relatively small total AHT trends. This highlights the importance of considering AHT changes holistically, rather than each AHT component individually.

Restricted access
James S. Risbey
,
Peter J. Lamb
,
Ron L. Miller
,
Michael C. Morgan
, and
Gerard H. Roe

Abstract

A set of regional climate scenarios is constructed for two study regions in North America using a combination of GCM output and synoptic–dynamical reasoning. The approach begins by describing the structure and components of a climate scenario and identifying the dynamical determinants of large-scale and regional climate. Expert judgement techniques are used to categorize the tendencies of these elements in response to increased greenhouse forcing in climate model studies. For many of the basic dynamical elements, tendencies are ambiguous, and changes in sign (magnitude, position) can usually be argued in either direction. A set of climate scenarios is produced for winter and summer, emphasizing the interrelationships among dynamical features, and adjusting GCM results on the basis of known deficiences in GCM simulations of the dynamical features. The scenarios are qualitative only, consistent with the level of precision afforded by the uncertainty in understanding of the dynamics, and in order to provide an outline of the reasoning and chain of contingencies on which the scenarios are based. The three winter scenarios outlined correspond roughly to a north–south displacement of the stationary wave pattern, to an increase in amplitude of the pattern, and to a shift in phase of the pattern. These scenarios illustrate that small changes in the dynamics can lead to large changes in regional climate in some regions, while other regions are apparently insensitive to some of the large changes in dynamics that can be plausibly hypothesized. The dynamics of summer regional climate changes are even more difficult to project, though thermodynamic considerations allow some more general conclusions to be reached in this season. Given present uncertainties it is difficult to constrain regional climate projections.

Full access
Tyler Cox
,
Aaron Donohoe
,
Kyle C. Armour
,
Gerard H. Roe
, and
Dargan M.W. Frierson

Abstract

Atmospheric heat transport (AHT) is an important piece of our climate system, but has primarily been studied at monthly or longer time scales. We introduce a new method for calculating zonal-mean meridional atmospheric heat transport (AHT) using instantaneous atmospheric fields. When time averaged, our calculations closely reproduce the climatological AHT used elsewhere in the literature to understand AHT and its trends on long timescales. In the extratropics, AHT convergence and atmospheric heating are strongly temporally correlated suggesting that AHT drives the vast majority of zonal-mean atmospheric temperature variability. Our AHT methodology separates AHT into two components, eddies and the mean-meridional circulation, which we find are negatively correlated throughout most of the mid- to high-latitudes. This negative correlation reduces the variance of total AHT compared to eddy AHT. Lastly, we find that the temporal distribution of total AHT at any given latitude is approximately symmetric.

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