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Samantha Stevenson
,
Baylor Fox-Kemper
,
Markus Jochum
,
Richard Neale
,
Clara Deser
, and
Gerald Meehl

Abstract

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) response to anthropogenic climate change is assessed in the following 1° nominal resolution Community Climate System Model, version 4 (CCSM4) Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) simulations: twentieth-century ensemble, preindustrial control, twenty-first-century projections, and stabilized 2100–2300 “extension runs.” ENSO variability weakens slightly with CO2; however, various significance tests reveal that changes are insignificant at all but the highest CO2 levels. Comparison with the 1850 control simulation suggests that ENSO changes may become significant on centennial time scales; the lack of signal in the twentieth- versus twenty-first-century ensembles is due to their limited duration. Changes to the mean state are consistent with previous studies: a weakening of the subtropical wind stress curl, an eastward shift of the tropical convective cells, a reduction in the zonal SST gradient, and an increase in vertical thermal stratification take place as CO2 increases. The extratropical thermocline deepens throughout the twenty-first century, with the tropical thermocline changing slowly in response. The adjustment time scale is set by the relevant ocean dynamics, and the delay in its effect on ENSO variability is not diminished by increasing ensemble size. The CCSM4 results imply that twenty-first-century simulations may simply be too short for identification of significant tropical variability response to climate change. An examination of atmospheric teleconnections, in contrast, shows that the remote influences of ENSO do respond rapidly to climate change in some regions, particularly during boreal winter. This suggests that changes to ENSO impacts may take place well before changes to oceanic tropical variability itself become significant.

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Laura M. Ciasto
,
Michael A. Alexander
,
Clara Deser
, and
Matthew H. England

Abstract

In this study, a simple stochastic climate model is used to examine the impact of the ocean mixed layer depth, surface turbulent energy fluxes, and Ekman currents on the persistence of cold-season extratropical sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies associated with variability in the annular modes of atmospheric circulation in both hemispheres. Observational analysis reveals that during the cold season, SST anomalies associated with the southern annular mode (SSTSAM) persist considerably longer than those associated with the northern annular mode (SSTNAM). Using the simple model, it is shown that the persistence of the cold-season SSTSAM is consistent with the simple stochastic climate paradigm in which the atmospheric forcing is approximated as white noise, and the persistence of SST anomalies can be largely determined by the thermal inertia of the ocean mixed layer. In the North Atlantic, however, the simple climate model overestimates the persistence of the cold-season SSTNAM. It is thought that this overestimate occurs because the NAM-related heat flux forcing cannot be described purely as white noise but must also include a feedback from the underlying SST anomalies.

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Yuko M. Okumura
,
Clara Deser
,
Aixue Hu
,
Axel Timmermann
, and
Shang-Ping Xie

Abstract

Sudden changes of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) are believed to have caused large, abrupt climate changes over many parts of the globe during the last glacial and deglacial period. This study investigates the mechanisms by which a large freshwater input to the subarctic North Atlantic and an attendant rapid weakening of the AMOC influence North Pacific climate by analyzing four different ocean–atmosphere coupled general circulation models (GCMs) under present-day or preindustrial boundary conditions. When the coupled GCMs are forced with a 1-Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) freshwater flux anomaly in the subarctic North Atlantic, the AMOC nearly shuts down and the North Atlantic cools significantly. The South Atlantic warms slightly, shifting the Atlantic intertropical convergence zone southward. In addition to this Atlantic ocean–atmosphere response, all of the models exhibit cooling of the North Pacific, especially along the oceanic frontal zone, consistent with paleoclimate reconstructions. The models also show deepening of the wintertime Aleutian low.

Detailed analysis of one coupled GCM identifies both oceanic and atmospheric pathways from the Atlantic to the North Pacific. The oceanic teleconnection contributes a large part of the North Pacific cooling: the freshwater input to the North Atlantic raises sea level in the Arctic Ocean and reverses the Bering Strait throughflow, transporting colder, fresher water from the Arctic Ocean into the North Pacific. When the Bering Strait is closed, the cooling is greatly reduced, while the Aleutian low response is enhanced. Tropical SST anomalies in both the Atlantic and Pacific are found to be important for the equivalent barotropic response of the Aleutian low during boreal winter. The atmospheric bridge from the tropical North Atlantic is particularly important and quite sensitive to the mean state, which is poorly simulated in many coupled GCMs. The enhanced Aleutian low, in turn, cools the North Pacific by increasing surface heat fluxes and southward Ekman transport. The closure of the Bering Strait during the last glacial period suggests that the atmospheric bridge from the tropics and air–sea interaction in the North Pacific played a crucial role in the AMOC–North Pacific teleconnection.

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Clara Deser
,
Adam S. Phillips
,
Michael A. Alexander
, and
Brian V. Smoliak

Abstract

This study highlights the relative importance of internally generated versus externally forced climate trends over the next 50 yr (2010–60) at local and regional scales over North America in two global coupled model ensembles. Both ensembles contain large numbers of integrations (17 and 40): each of which is subject to identical anthropogenic radiative forcing (e.g., greenhouse gas increase) but begins from a slightly different initial atmospheric state. Thus, the diversity of projected climate trends within each model ensemble is due solely to intrinsic, unpredictable variability of the climate system. Both model ensembles show that natural climate variability superimposed upon forced climate change will result in a range of possible future trends for surface air temperature and precipitation over the next 50 yr. Precipitation trends are particularly subject to uncertainty as a result of internal variability, with signal-to-noise ratios less than 2. Intrinsic atmospheric circulation variability is mainly responsible for the spread in future climate trends, imparting regional coherence to the internally driven air temperature and precipitation trends. The results underscore the importance of conducting a large number of climate change projections with a given model, as each realization will contain a different superposition of unforced and forced trends. Such initial-condition ensembles are also needed to determine the anthropogenic climate response at local and regional scales and provide a new perspective on how to usefully compare climate change projections across models.

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Shang-Ping Xie
,
Clara Deser
,
Gabriel A. Vecchi
,
Jian Ma
,
Haiyan Teng
, and
Andrew T. Wittenberg

Abstract

Spatial variations in sea surface temperature (SST) and rainfall changes over the tropics are investigated based on ensemble simulations for the first half of the twenty-first century under the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission scenario A1B with coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation models of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Despite a GHG increase that is nearly uniform in space, pronounced patterns emerge in both SST and precipitation. Regional differences in SST warming can be as large as the tropical-mean warming. Specifically, the tropical Pacific warming features a conspicuous maximum along the equator and a minimum in the southeast subtropics. The former is associated with westerly wind anomalies whereas the latter is linked to intensified southeast trade winds, suggestive of wind–evaporation–SST feedback. There is a tendency for a greater warming in the northern subtropics than in the southern subtropics in accordance with asymmetries in trade wind changes. Over the equatorial Indian Ocean, surface wind anomalies are easterly, the thermocline shoals, and the warming is reduced in the east, indicative of Bjerknes feedback. In the midlatitudes, ocean circulation changes generate narrow banded structures in SST warming. The warming is negatively correlated with wind speed change over the tropics and positively correlated with ocean heat transport change in the northern extratropics. A diagnostic method based on the ocean mixed layer heat budget is developed to investigate mechanisms for SST pattern formation.

Tropical precipitation changes are positively correlated with spatial deviations of SST warming from the tropical mean. In particular, the equatorial maximum in SST warming over the Pacific anchors a band of pronounced rainfall increase. The gross moist instability follows closely relative SST change as equatorial wave adjustments flatten upper-tropospheric warming. The comparison with atmospheric simulations in response to a spatially uniform SST warming illustrates the importance of SST patterns for rainfall change, an effect overlooked in current discussion of precipitation response to global warming. Implications for the global and regional response of tropical cyclones are discussed.

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Yehui Zhang
,
Dian J. Seidel
,
Jean-Christophe Golaz
,
Clara Deser
, and
Robert A. Tomas

Abstract

Surface-based inversions (SBIs) are frequent features of the Arctic and Antarctic atmospheric boundary layer. They influence vertical mixing of energy, moisture and pollutants, cloud formation, and surface ozone destruction. Their climatic variability is related to that of sea ice and planetary albedo, important factors in climate feedback mechanisms. However, climatological polar SBI properties have not been fully characterized nor have climate model simulations of SBIs been compared comprehensively to observations. Using 20 years of twice-daily observations from 39 Arctic and 6 Antarctic radiosonde stations, this study examines the spatial and temporal variability of three SBI characteristic—frequency of occurrence, depth (from the surface to the inversion top), and intensity (temperature difference over the SBI depth)—and relationships among them. In both polar regions, SBIs are more frequent, deeper, and stronger in winter and autumn than in summer and spring. In the Arctic, these tendencies increase from the Norwegian Sea eastward toward the East Siberian Sea, associated both with (seasonal and diurnal) variations in solar elevation angle at the standard radiosonde observation times and with differences between continental and maritime climates. Two state-of-the-art climate models and one reanalysis dataset show similar seasonal patterns and spatial distributions of SBI properties as the radiosonde observations, but with biases in their magnitudes that differ among the models and that are smaller in winter and autumn than in spring and summer. SBI frequency, depth, and intensity are positively correlated, both spatially and temporally, and all three are anticorrelated with surface temperature.

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Clara Deser
,
Isla R. Simpson
,
Karen A. McKinnon
, and
Adam S. Phillips

Abstract

Application of random sampling techniques to composite differences between 18 El Niño and 14 La Niña events observed since 1920 reveals considerable uncertainty in both the pattern and amplitude of the Northern Hemisphere extratropical winter sea level pressure (SLP) response to ENSO. While the SLP responses over the North Pacific and North America are robust to sampling variability, their magnitudes can vary by a factor of 2; other regions, such as the Arctic, North Atlantic, and Europe are less robust in their SLP patterns, amplitudes, and statistical significance. The uncertainties on the observed ENSO composite are shown to arise mainly from atmospheric internal variability as opposed to ENSO diversity. These observational findings pose considerable challenges for the evaluation of ENSO teleconnections in models. An approach is proposed that incorporates both pattern and amplitude uncertainty in the observational target, allowing for discrimination between true model biases in the forced ENSO response and apparent model biases that arise from limited sampling of non-ENSO-related internal variability. Large initial-condition coupled model ensembles with realistic tropical Pacific sea surface temperature anomaly evolution during 1920–2013 show similar levels of uncertainty in their ENSO teleconnections as found in observations. Because the set of ENSO events in each of the model composites is the same (and identical to that in observations), these uncertainties are entirely attributable to sampling fluctuations arising from internal variability, which is shown to originate from atmospheric processes. The initial-condition model ensembles thus inform the interpretation of the single observed ENSO composite and vice versa.

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Rosanne D’Arrigo
,
Rob Wilson
,
Clara Deser
,
Gregory Wiles
,
Edward Cook
,
Ricardo Villalba
,
Alexander Tudhope
,
Julia Cole
, and
Braddock Linsley

Abstract

Analyses of instrumental data demonstrate robust linkages between decadal-scale North Pacific and tropical Indo-Pacific climatic variability. These linkages encompass common regime shifts, including the noteworthy 1976 transition in Pacific climate. However, information on Pacific decadal variability and the tropical high-latitude climate connection is limited prior to the twentieth century. Herein tree-ring analysis is employed to extend the understanding of North Pacific climatic variability and related tropical linkages over the past four centuries. To this end, a tree-ring reconstruction of the December–May North Pacific index (NPI)—an index of the atmospheric circulation related to the Aleutian low pressure cell—is presented (1600–1983). The NPI reconstruction shows evidence for the three regime shifts seen in the instrumental NPI data, and for seven events in prior centuries. It correlates significantly with both instrumental tropical climate indices and a coral-based reconstruction of an optimal tropical Indo-Pacific climate index, supporting evidence for a tropical–North Pacific link extending as far west as the western Indian Ocean. The coral-based reconstruction (1781–1993) shows the twentieth-century regime shifts evident in the instrumental NPI and instrumental tropical Indo-Pacific climate index, and three previous shifts. Changes in the strength of correlation between the reconstructions over time, and the different identified shifts in both series prior to the twentieth century, suggest a varying tropical influence on North Pacific climate, with greater influence in the twentieth century. One likely mechanism is the low-frequency variability of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its varying impact on Indo-Pacific climate.

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Stephanie Hay
,
Paul J. Kushner
,
Russell Blackport
,
Kelly E. McCusker
,
Thomas Oudar
,
Lantao Sun
,
Mark England
,
Clara Deser
,
James A. Screen
, and
Lorenzo M. Polvani

Abstract

Analyzing a multimodel ensemble of coupled climate model simulations forced with Arctic sea ice loss using a two-parameter pattern-scaling technique to remove the cross-coupling between low- and high-latitude responses, the sensitivity to high-latitude sea ice loss is isolated and contrasted to the sensitivity to low-latitude warming. Despite some differences in experimental design, the Northern Hemisphere near-surface atmospheric sensitivity to sea ice loss is found to be robust across models in the cold season; however, a larger intermodel spread is found at the surface in boreal summer, and in the free tropospheric circulation. In contrast, the sensitivity to low-latitude warming is most robust in the free troposphere and in the warm season, with more intermodel spread in the surface ocean and surface heat flux over the Northern Hemisphere. The robust signals associated with sea ice loss include upward turbulent and longwave heat fluxes where sea ice is lost, warming and freshening of the Arctic Ocean, warming of the eastern North Pacific Ocean relative to the western North Pacific with upward turbulent heat fluxes in the Kuroshio Extension, and salinification of the shallow shelf seas of the Arctic Ocean alongside freshening in the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean. In contrast, the robust signals associated with low-latitude warming include intensified ocean warming and upward latent heat fluxes near the western boundary currents, freshening of the Pacific Ocean, salinification of the North Atlantic, and downward sensible and longwave fluxes over the ocean.

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Clara Deser
,
Adam S. Phillips
,
Michael. A. Alexander
,
Dillon J. Amaya
,
Antonietta Capotondi
,
Michael G. Jacox
, and
James D. Scott

Abstract

The future evolution of sea surface temperature (SST) extremes is of great concern, not only for the health of marine ecosystems and sustainability of commercial fisheries, but also for precipitation extremes fueled by moisture evaporated from the ocean. This study examines the projected influence of anthropogenic climate change on the intensity and duration of monthly SST extremes, hereafter termed marine heat waves (MHWs) and marine cold waves (MCWs), based on initial-condition large ensembles with seven Earth system models. The large number of simulations (30–100) with each model allows for robust quantification of future changes in both the mean state and variability in each model. In general, models indicate that future changes in variability will cause MHW and MCW events to intensify in the northern extratropics and weaken in the tropics and Southern Ocean, and to shorten in duration in many areas. These changes are generally symmetric between MHWs and MCWs, except for the longitude of duration change in the tropical Pacific and sign of duration change in the Arctic. Projected changes in ENSO account for a large fraction of the variability-induced changes in MHW and MCW characteristics in each model and are responsible for much of the intermodel spread as a result of differences in future ENSO behavior. The variability-related changes in MHW and MCW characteristics noted above are superimposed upon large mean-state changes. Indeed, their contribution to the total change in SST during MHW and MCW events is generally <10% except in polar regions where they contribute upward of 50%.

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