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Gerard Roe

Abstract

It is a simple truism that public policy must be guided by an objective analysis of the physical and economic consequences of climate change. It is equally true that policy making is an inherently value-laden endeavor. While these two threads are interconnected, the relative weight given to each depends on the certainty that the technical analyses can deliver. For climate change, the envelope of uncertainty is best understood at the global scale, and there are some well known and formidable challenges to reducing it. This uncertainty must in turn be compounded with much more poorly constrained uncertainties in regional climate, climate impacts, and future economic costs. The case can be made that technical analyses have reached the point of diminishing returns. Should meaningful action on climate change await greater analytical certainty? This paper argues that policy makers should give greater weight to moral arguments, in no small part because that is where the heart of the debate really lies.

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Summer Rupper
and
Gerard Roe

Abstract

The mass balance of a glacier is a complex consequence of the combination of atmospheric variables that control it. However, the understanding of past, present, and future glacier states is often predicated on very simplified representations of the mass balance–climate relationship. Here, a full surface energy and mass balance (SEMB) model is developed to explore the relationship between glacier equilibrium-line altitudes (ELAs) and climate at a regional scale. This model is applied to central Asia because of the diverse climate regimes and glacier history. The model captures the pattern in ELAs well; the seasonal cycle in energy balance terms are comparable to studies on individual glaciers in central Asia, and the proportionality factor relating melt to temperature is within the range of those reported for individual glaciers within the area. In regions where precipitation is low, ablation at the ELA is dominated by sublimation. Conversely, where precipitation is high, ablation at the ELA is dominated by melt and surface runoff. In turn, the sensitivity of the ELA to changes in climate is strongly tied to the dominant ablation process. In particular, ELAs in melt-dominated regions are most sensitive to interannual variability in air temperature, while ELAs in sublimation-dominated regions are most sensitive to interannual variability in precipitation. Glaciers in sublimation-dominated regions are acutely sensitive to even small changes in atmospheric variables. Finally, changes in clouds are shown to be important in all regions through their influence on the shortwave and longwave radiative fluxes, which dominate the surface energy balance at the ELA.

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Gerard H. Roe
and
Richard S. Lindzen

Abstract

Baroclinic instability in two-level models is characterized by a critical vertical shear, for values above which the flow is unstable. Existing studies of nonlinear baroclinic equilibration in two-level models suggest that, while equilibration does occur, it does so for values of vertical shear that are supercritical. The criterion used for the critical shear, however, ignores nonlinear changes in barotropic (meridional) shear. The present note estimates, using the two-scale formalism, the effect of both jet scale and damping on the critical value of vertical shear. The results suggest the barotropic shear in the equilibrated states may be sufficient, in the presence of damping, to render the equilibrated states neutral. More generally, it appears important to take account of the nature of the evolved flow when assessing the stability properties of the equilibrated state.

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Richard S. Lindzen
and
Gerard Roe

Abstract

This note corrects a numerical error in a prior work of Lindzen. The correction eliminates the strong sensitivity found in the earlier paper to the details of the concentration of potential vorticity gradients at the tropopause. Remaining sensitivities in the simple calculations presented are largely related to variations in the basic state’s zonal wind.

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Gerard H. Roe
and
Marcia B. Baker

Abstract

Patterns of orographic precipitation can vary significantly both in time and space, and such variations must ultimately be related to mountain geometry, cloud microphysics, and synoptic conditions. Here an extension of the classic upslope model is presented, which incorporates an explicit representation in the vertical dimension, represents the finite growth time of hydrometeors, their downwind advection by the prevailing wind, and also allows for evaporation. For a simple mountain geometry the authors derive an analytical solution for the precipitation rate, which can be understood in terms of four nondimensional parameters. The finite growth time and slanting hydrometeor trajectories give rise to some interesting possibilities: a precipitation rate that maximizes at intermediate values of the horizontal wind speed, localized precipitation efficiencies in excess of 100%, and a reverse rain shadow with more precipitation falling on the leeward flank than on the windward flank.

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Gerard H. Roe
and
Marcia B. Baker

Abstract

The language of feedbacks is ubiquitous in contemporary earth sciences, and the framework of feedback analysis is a powerful tool for diagnosing the relative strengths of the myriad mutual interactions that occur in complex dynamical systems. The ice albedo feedback is widely taught as the classic example of a climate feedback. Moreover, its potential to initiate a collapse to a completely glaciated snowball earth is widely taught as the classic example of a climate “tipping point.” A feedback analysis of the snowball earth phenomenon in simple, zonal mean energy balance models clearly reveals the physics of the snowball instability and its dependence on climate parameters. The analysis can also be used to illustrate some fundamental properties of climate feedbacks: how feedback strength changes as a function of mean climate state; how small changes in individual feedbacks can cause large changes in the system sensitivity; and last, how the strength and even the sign of the feedback is dependent on the climate variable in question.

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Nicole Feldl
and
Gerard H. Roe

Abstract

The climate feedback framework partitions the radiative response to climate forcing into contributions from individual atmospheric processes. The goal of this study is to understand the closure of the energy budget in as much detail and precision as possible, within as clean an experimental setup as possible. Radiative kernels and radiative forcing are diagnosed for an aquaplanet simulation under perpetual equinox conditions. The role of the meridional structure of feedbacks, heat transport, and nonlinearities in controlling the local climate response is characterized. Results display a combination of positive subtropical feedbacks and polar amplified warming. These two factors imply a critical role for transport and nonlinear effects, with the latter acting to substantially reduce global climate sensitivity. At the hemispheric scale, a rich picture emerges: anomalous divergence of heat flux away from positive feedbacks in the subtropics; nonlinear interactions among and within clear-sky feedbacks, which reinforce the pattern of tropical cooling and high-latitude warming tendencies; and strong ice-line feedbacks that drive further amplification of polar warming. These results have implications for regional climate predictability, by providing an indication of how spatial patterns in feedbacks combine to affect both the local and nonlocal climate response, and how constraining uncertainty in those feedbacks may constrain the climate response.

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Nicole Feldl
and
Gerard H. Roe

Abstract

Characterizing the relationship between large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns and the shape of the daily precipitation distribution is fundamental to understanding how dynamical changes are manifest in the hydrological cycle, and it is also relevant to issues such as natural hazard mitigation and reservoir management. This relationship is pursued using ENSO variability and the American West as a case study. When considering the full range of wintertime precipitation and consistent with conventional wisdom, mean precipitation intensity is enhanced during El Niño relative to La Niña in the Southwest and vice versa in the Northwest. This change in mean is attributed to a shift in the distribution of daily precipitation toward more intense daily rainfall rates. In addition, fundamental changes in the shape of the precipitation distributions are observed, independent of shifts in the mean. Surprisingly, for intense precipitation, La Niña winters actually demonstrate a significant increase in intensity (but not frequency) across the Southwest. A main lesson from this analysis is that, in response to ENSO variability, changes in extreme events can be significantly different from changes in the mean. In some instances, even the sign of the change is reversed. This result suggests that patterns of large-scale variability have an effect on the precipitation distribution that is nuanced, and they cannot be regarded as simply causing a shift in climatic zones. It also raises interesting questions concerning how best to establish confidence in climate predictions.

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Nicole Feldl
and
Gerard H. Roe
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Nicholas Siler
,
Gerard Roe
, and
Dale Durran

Abstract

Washington State’s Cascade Mountains exhibit a strong orographic rain shadow, with much wetter western slopes than eastern slopes due to prevailing westerly flow during the winter storm season. There is significant interannual variability in the magnitude of this rain-shadow effect, however, which has important consequences for water resource management, especially where water is a critically limited resource east of the crest. Here the influence of the large-scale circulation on the Cascade rain shadow is investigated using observations from the Snowfall Telemetry (SNOTEL) monitoring network, supplemented by stream gauge measurements. Two orthogonal indices are introduced as a basis set for representing variability in wintertime Cascade precipitation. First, the total precipitation index is a measure of regionwide precipitation and explains the majority of the variance in wintertime precipitation everywhere. Second, the rain-shadow index is a measure of the east–west precipitation gradient. It explains up to 31% of the variance west and east of the crest. A significant correlation is found between the winter-mean rain shadow and ENSO, with weak (strong) rain shadows associated with El Niño (La Niña). The analysis is supported by streamflow data from eastern and western watersheds. A preliminary review of individual storms suggests that the strongest rain shadows are associated with warm-sector events, while the weakest rain shadows occur during warm-frontal passages. This is consistent with known changes in storm tracks associated with ENSO, and a variety of mechanisms likely contribute.

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