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Ruyan Chen
,
Isla R. Simpson
,
Clara Deser
,
Bin Wang
, and
Yan Du

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that models overestimate the strength of ENSO teleconnections to the North Pacific during springtime, but the underlying reasons for this bias remain unknown. In this work, the relative contributions from basic-state and thermodynamic/dynamic forcing factors are disentangled through idealized experiments with the Community Earth System Model and a range of stationary wave modeling experiments. It is revealed that in CESM1 the diabatic heating biases over the tropical Indian Ocean and tropical central-western Pacific jointly favor a cyclonic (anticyclonic) circulation bias to occur in the North Pacific during the springtime of El Niño (La Niña) events. On one hand, the difference in the modeled and observed climatological basic state does not lead to the bias formation directly, as the diabatic heating biases are the primary cause. On the other hand, the springtime basic state is conducive to a more vigorous stationary wave response to the biased diabatic heating than the wintertime state, and this explains why the teleconnection bias occurs during springtime but not in winter. An iterative bias-correction approach is then implemented in the atmospheric model component of CESM1 to verify the linkage between the tropical diabatic heating bias and the teleconnection bias. Moreover, this explanation is shown to be relevant in other models of phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) as a strong relationship is found between biases in ENSO-related tropical central-western Pacific/Indian Ocean precipitation and North Pacific circulation across models in spring.

Significance Statement

The purpose of this study is to explain why climate models tend to overestimate the springtime ENSO teleconnection to the North Pacific. Through both simplified and comprehensive model experiments, we found that the diabatic heating biases over the tropical Indian Ocean and central-western Pacific basins are the main cause behind the circulation bias. Although similar heating biases also occur in winter, the spring mean climate state is more sensitive to the biased heating than the winter mean state. These findings are useful for developing future climate models that would better simulate the springtime climate response during the ENSO events, as the same problem can be found in many other models.

Free access
Haruki Hirasawa
,
Paul J. Kushner
,
Michael Sigmond
,
John Fyfe
, and
Clara Deser

Abstract

Sahel summertime precipitation declined from the 1950s to 1970s and recovered from the 1970s to 2000s. Anthropogenic aerosol contributions to this evolution are typically attributed to interhemispheric gradient changes of Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperature (SST). However recent work by Hirasawa et al. indicates a more complex picture, with the response being a combination of “fast” direct atmospheric (DA) processes and “slow” ocean-mediated (OM) processes. Here, we extend this understanding using the Community Atmosphere Model 5 to determine the role of regional ocean-basin perturbations and regional aerosol emission changes in the overall aerosol-driven OM and DA responses, respectively. From the 1950s to 1970s, there was an OM Sahel wetting response due to Pacific Ocean cooling that was offset by drying due to Atlantic cooling. By contrast, from the 1970s to 2000s, Atlantic trends reversed and amplified the Pacific cooling-induced wetting. This wetting was partially offset by drying driven by Indian Ocean cooling. Thus, the OM Sahel precipitation response to aerosol crucially depends on the balance of responses to Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean SST anomalies. From the 1950s to 1970s, there is DA Sahel drying that was principally due to North American aerosol emissions, with negligible effect from European emissions. DA drying from the 1970s to 2000s was mainly due to African aerosol emissions. Thus, the shifting roles of regional OM and DA effects reveal a complex interplay of direct driving and remote teleconnections in determining the time evolution of Sahel precipitation due to aerosol forcing in the late twentieth century.

Significance Statement

Studies of global climate models consistently indicate that anthropogenic aerosol emissions were a significant contributor to a severe drought that occurred in the Sahel region of Africa in the late twentieth century. The drying influence of aerosol forcing is the combined result of rapid atmospheric responses directly due to the forcing and slower responses due to forced ocean temperature changes. Using a set of simulations targeted at determining the influences from different ocean basins and different emission regions for two periods in the late twentieth century, we find there is a surprising range of mechanisms through which aerosol emissions affect the Sahel. This results in a complex interplay of at times competing and at times complementary regional influences.

Open access
Clara Deser
,
Michael A. Alexander
, and
Michael S. Timlin

Abstract

A newly available, extensive compilation of upper-ocean temperature profiles was used to study the vertical structure of thermal anomalies between the surface and 400-m depth in the North Pacific during 1970–1991. A prominent decade-long perturbation in climate occurred during this time period: surface waters cooled by ∼1°C in the central and western North Pacific and warmed by about the same amount along the west coast of North America from late 1976 to 1988. Comparison with data from COADS suggests that the relatively sparse sampling of the subsurface data is adequate for describing the climate anomaly.

The vertical structure of seasonal thermal anomalies in the central North Pacific shows a series of cold pulses beginning in the fall of 1976 and continuing until late 1988 that appear to originate at the surface and descend with time into the main thermocline to at least 400-m depth. Individual cold events descend rapidly (∼100 m yr−1), superimposed upon a slower cooling (∼15 m yr−1). The interdecadal climate change, while evident at the surface, is most prominent below ∼150 m where interannual variations are small. Unlike the central North Pacific, the temperature changes along the west coast of North America appear to be confined to approximately the upper 200–250 m. The structure of the interdecadal thermal variations in the eastern and central North Pacific appears to be consistent with the dynamics of the ventilated thermocline. In the western North Pacific, strong cooling is observed along the axis of the Kuroshio Current Extension below ∼200 m depth during the 1980s.

Changes in mixed layer depth accompany the SST variations, but their spatial distribution is not identical to the pattern of SST change. In particular, the decade-long cool period in the central North Pacific was accompanied by a ∼20 m deepening of the mixed layer in winter, but no significant changes in mixed layer depth were found along the west coast of North America. It is suggested that other factors such as stratification beneath the mixed layer and synoptic wind forcing may play a role in determining the distribution of mixed layer depth anomalies.

Full access
Ruyan Chen
,
Isla R. Simpson
,
Clara Deser
, and
Bin Wang

Abstract

The wintertime ENSO teleconnection over the North Pacific region consists of an intensified (weakened) low pressure center during El Niño (La Niña) events both in observations and in climate models. Here, it is demonstrated that this teleconnection persists too strongly into late winter and spring in the Community Earth System Model (CESM). This discrepancy arises in both fully coupled and atmosphere-only configurations, when observed SSTs are specified, and is shown to be robust when accounting for the sampling uncertainty due to internal variability. Furthermore, a similar problem is found in many other models from piControl simulations of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (23 out of 43 in phase 5 and 11 out of 20 in phase 6). The implications of this bias for the simulation of surface climate anomalies over North America are assessed. The overall effect on the ENSO composite field (El Niño minus La Niña) resembles an overly prolonged influence of ENSO into the spring with anomalously high temperatures over Alaska and western Canada, and wet (dry) biases over California (southwest Canada). Further studies are still needed to disentangle the relative roles played by diabatic heating, background flow, and other possible contributions in determining the overly strong springtime ENSO teleconnection intensity over the North Pacific.

Free access
Xian Wu
,
Yuko M. Okumura
,
Clara Deser
, and
Pedro N. DiNezio

Abstract

El Niño and La Niña events show a wide range of durations over the historical record. The predictability of event duration has remained largely unknown, although multiyear events could prolong their climate impacts. To explore the predictability of El Niño and La Niña event duration, multiyear ensemble forecasts are conducted with the Community Earth System Model, version 1 (CESM1). The 10–40-member forecasts are initialized with observed oceanic conditions on 1 March, 1 June, and 1 November of each year during 1954–2015; ensemble spread is created through slight perturbations to the atmospheric initial conditions. The CESM1 predicts the duration of individual El Niño and La Niña events with lead times ranging from 6 to 25 months. In particular, forecasts initialized in November, near the first peak of El Niño or La Niña, can skillfully predict whether the event continues through the second year with 1-yr lead time. The occurrence of multiyear La Niña events can be predicted even earlier with lead times up to 25 months, especially when they are preceded by strong El Niño. The predictability of event duration arises from initial thermocline depth anomalies in the equatorial Pacific, as well as sea surface temperature anomalies within and outside the tropical Pacific. The forecast error growth, on the other hand, originates mainly from atmospheric variability over the North Pacific in boreal winter. The high predictability of event duration indicates the potential for extending 12-month operational forecasts of El Niño and La Niña events by one additional year.

Open access
Haruki Hirasawa
,
Paul J. Kushner
,
Michael Sigmond
,
John Fyfe
, and
Clara Deser

Abstract

Sahel precipitation has undergone substantial multidecadal time scale changes during the twentieth century that have had severe impacts on the region’s population. Using initial-condition large ensembles (LE) of coupled general circulation model (GCM) simulations from two institutions, forced multidecadal variability is found in which Sahel precipitation declines from the 1950s to 1970s and then recovers from the 1970s to 2000s. This forced variability has similar timing to, but considerably smaller magnitude than, observed Sahel precipitation variability. Isolating the response using single forcing simulations within the LEs reveals that anthropogenic aerosols (AA) are the primary driver of this forced variability. The roles of the direct-atmospheric and the ocean-mediated atmospheric responses to AA forcing are determined with the atmosphere–land GCM (AGCM) components of the LE coupled GCMs. The direct-atmospheric response arises from changes to aerosol and precursor emissions with unchanged oceanic boundary conditions while the ocean-mediated response arises from changes to AA-forced sea surface temperatures and sea ice concentrations diagnosed from the AA-forced LE. In the AGCMs studied here, the direct-atmospheric response dominates the AA-forced 1970s − 1950s Sahel drying. On the other hand, the 2000s − 1970s wetting is mainly driven by the ocean-mediated effect, with some direct atmospheric contribution. Although the responses show differences, there is qualitative agreement between the AGCMs regarding the roles of the direct-atmospheric and ocean-mediated responses. Since these effects often compete and show nonlinearity, the model dependence of these effects and their role in the net aerosol-forced response of Sahel precipitation need to be carefully accounted for in future model analysis.

Free access
James A. Screen
,
Ian Simmonds
,
Clara Deser
, and
Robert Tomas

Abstract

Arctic sea ice is declining at an increasing rate with potentially important repercussions. To understand better the atmospheric changes that may have occurred in response to Arctic sea ice loss, this study presents results from atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) experiments in which the only time-varying forcings prescribed were observed variations in Arctic sea ice and accompanying changes in Arctic sea surface temperatures from 1979 to 2009. Two independent AGCMs are utilized in order to assess the robustness of the response across different models. The results suggest that the atmospheric impacts of Arctic sea ice loss have been manifested most strongly within the maritime and coastal Arctic and in the lowermost atmosphere. Sea ice loss has driven increased energy transfer from the ocean to the atmosphere, enhanced warming and moistening of the lower troposphere, decreased the strength of the surface temperature inversion, and increased lower-tropospheric thickness; all of these changes are most pronounced in autumn and early winter (September–December). The early winter (November–December) atmospheric circulation response resembles the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO); however, the NAO-type response is quite weak and is often masked by intrinsic (unforced) atmospheric variability. Some evidence of a late winter (March–April) polar stratospheric cooling response to sea ice loss is also found, which may have important implications for polar stratospheric ozone concentrations. The attribution and quantification of other aspects of the possible atmospheric response are hindered by model sensitivities and large intrinsic variability. The potential remote responses to Arctic sea ice change are currently hard to confirm and remain uncertain.

Full access
Karen A. McKinnon
,
Andrew Poppick
,
Etienne Dunn-Sigouin
, and
Clara Deser

Abstract

Estimates of the climate response to anthropogenic forcing contain irreducible uncertainty due to the presence of internal variability. Accurate quantification of this uncertainty is critical for both contextualizing historical trends and determining the spread of climate projections. The contribution of internal variability to uncertainty in trends can be estimated in models as the spread across an initial condition ensemble. However, internal variability simulated by a model may be inconsistent with observations due to model biases. Here, statistical resampling methods are applied to observations in order to quantify uncertainty in historical 50-yr (1966–2015) winter near-surface air temperature trends over North America related to incomplete sampling of internal variability. This estimate is compared with the simulated trend uncertainty in the NCAR CESM1 Large Ensemble (LENS). The comparison suggests that uncertainty in trends due to internal variability is largely overestimated in LENS, which has an average amplification of variability of 32% across North America. The amplification of variability is greatest in the western United States and Alaska. The observationally derived estimate of trend uncertainty is combined with the forced signal from LENS to produce an “Observational Large Ensemble” (OLENS). The members of OLENS indicate the range of observationally constrained, spatially consistent temperature trends that could have been observed over the past 50 years if a different sequence of internal variability had unfolded. The smaller trend uncertainty in OLENS suggests that is easier to detect the historical climate change signal in observations than in any given member of LENS.

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Yuko M. Okumura
,
David Schneider
,
Clara Deser
, and
Rob Wilson

Abstract

The Antarctic continent contains the majority of the global ice volume and plays an important role in a changing climate. The nature and causes of Antarctic climate variability are, however, poorly understood beyond interannual time scales due to the paucity of long, reliable meteorological observations. This study analyzes decadal–interdecadal climate variability over Antarctica using a network of annually resolved ice core records and various instrumental and tropical proxy data for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the twentieth century, Antarctic ice core records indicate strong linkages to sea surface temperature (SST) variations in the tropical Pacific and Atlantic on decadal–interdecadal time scales. Antarctic surface temperature anomalies inferred from the ice cores are consistent with the associated changes in atmospheric circulation and thermal advection. A set of atmospheric general circulation model experiments supports the idea that decadal SST variations in the tropics force atmospheric teleconnections that affect Antarctic surface temperatures. When coral and other proxies for tropical climate are used to extend the analysis back to 1799, a similar Antarctic–tropical Pacific linkage is found, although the relationship is weaker during the first half of the nineteenth century. Over the past 50 years, a change in the phase of Pacific and Atlantic interdecadal variability may have contributed to the rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica and related changes in ice sheet dynamics.

Full access
Brian Medeiros
,
Clara Deser
,
Robert A. Tomas
, and
Jennifer E. Kay

Abstract

Recent work indicates that climate models have a positive bias in the strength of the wintertime low-level temperature inversion over the high-latitude Northern Hemisphere. It has been argued this bias leads to underestimates of the Arctic’s surface temperature response to anthropogenic forcing. Here the bias in inversion strength is revisited. The spatial distribution of low-level stability is found to be bimodal in climate models and observational reanalysis products, with low-level inversions represented by a stable primary mode over the interior Arctic Ocean and adjacent continents, and a secondary unstable mode over the Atlantic Ocean. Averaging over these differing conditions is detrimental to understanding the origins of the inversion strength bias. While nearly all of the 21 models examined overestimate the area-average inversion strength, conditionally sampling the two modes shows about half the models are biased because of the relative partitioning of the modes and half because of biases within the stable mode.

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