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Thomas L. Delworth and Richard J. Greatbatch

Abstract

Previous analyses of an extended integration of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory coupled climate model have revealed pronounced multidecadal variations of the thermohaline circulation (THC) in the North Atlantic. The purpose of the current work is to assess whether those fluctuations can be viewed as a coupled air–sea mode (in the sense of ENSO), or as an oceanic response to forcing from the atmosphere model, in which large-scale feedbacks from the ocean to the atmospheric circulation are not critical.

A series of integrations using the ocean component of the coupled model are performed to address the above question. The ocean model is forced by suitably chosen time series of surface fluxes from either the coupled model or a companion integration of an atmosphere-only model run with a prescribed seasonal cycle of SSTs and sea-ice thickness. These experiments reveal that 1) the previously identified multidecadal THC variations can be largely viewed as an oceanic response to surface flux forcing from the atmosphere model, although air–sea coupling through the thermodynamics appears to modify the amplitude of the variability, and 2) variations in heat flux are the dominant term (relative to the freshwater and momentum fluxes) in driving the THC variability. Experiments driving the ocean model using either high- or low-pass-filtered heat fluxes, with a cutoff period of 20 yr, show that the multidecadal THC variability is driven by the low-frequency portion of the spectrum of atmospheric flux forcing. Analyses have also revealed that the multidecadal THC fluctuations are driven by a spatial pattern of surface heat flux variations that bears a strong resemblance to the North Atlantic oscillation. No conclusive evidence is found that the THC variability is part of a dynamically coupled mode of the atmosphere and ocean models.

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Sarah B. Kapnick and Thomas L. Delworth

Abstract

This study assesses the ability of a newly developed high-resolution coupled model from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory to simulate the cold-season hydroclimate in the present climate and examines its response to climate change forcing. Output is assessed from a 280-yr control simulation that is based on 1990 atmospheric composition and an idealized 140-yr future simulation in which atmospheric carbon dioxide increases at 1% yr−1 until doubling in year 70 and then remains constant. When compared with a low-resolution model, the high-resolution model is found to better represent the geographic distribution of snow variables in the present climate. In response to idealized radiative forcing changes, both models produce similar global-scale responses in which global-mean temperature and total precipitation increase while snowfall decreases. Zonally, snowfall tends to decrease in the low to midlatitudes and increase in the mid- to high latitudes. At the regional scale, the high- and low-resolution models sometimes diverge in the sign of projected snowfall changes; the high-resolution model exhibits future increases in a few select high-altitude regions, notably the northwestern Himalaya region and small regions in the Andes and southwestern Yukon, Canada. Despite such local signals, there is an almost universal reduction in snowfall as a percent of total precipitation in both models. By using a simple multivariate model, temperature is shown to drive these trends by decreasing snowfall almost everywhere while precipitation increases snowfall in the high altitudes and mid- to high latitudes. Mountainous regions of snowfall increases in the high-resolution model exhibit a unique dominance of the positive contribution from precipitation over temperature.

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Liping Zhang, Thomas L. Delworth, and Liwei Jia

Abstract

The average predictability time (APT) method is used to identify the most predictable components of decadal sea surface temperature (SST) variations over the Southern Ocean (SO) in a 4000-yr unforced control run of the GFDL CM2.1 model. The most predictable component shows significant predictive skill for periods as long as 20 years. The physical pattern of this variability has a uniform sign of SST anomalies over the SO, with maximum values over the Amundsen–Bellingshausen–Weddell Seas. Spectral analysis of the associated APT time series shows a broad peak on time scales of 70–120 years. This most predictable pattern is closely related to the mature phase of a mode of internal variability in the SO that is associated with fluctuations of deep ocean convection. The second most predictable component of SO SST is characterized by a dipole structure, with SST anomalies of one sign over the Weddell Sea and SST anomalies of the opposite sign over the Amundsen–Bellingshausen Seas. This component has significant predictive skill for periods as long as 6 years. This dipole mode is associated with a transition between phases of the dominant pattern of SO internal variability. The long time scales associated with variations in SO deep convection provide the source of the predictive skill of SO SST on decadal scales. These analyses suggest that if the SO deep convection in a numerical forecast model could be adequately initialized, the future evolution of SO SST and its associated climate impacts are potentially predictable.

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Thomas L. Delworth and Keith W. Dixon

Abstract

Most projections of greenhouse gas–induced climate change indicate a weakening of the thermohaline circulation (THC) in the North Atlantic in response to increased freshening and warming in the subpolar region. These changes reduce high-latitude upper-ocean density and therefore weaken the THC. Using ensembles of numerical experiments with a coupled ocean–atmosphere model, it is found that this weakening could be delayed by several decades in response to a sustained upward trend in the Arctic/North Atlantic oscillation during winter, such as has been observed over the last 30 years. The stronger winds over the North Atlantic associated with this trend extract more heat from the ocean, thereby cooling and increasing the density of the upper ocean and thus opposing the previously described weakening of the THC. This result is of particular importance if the positive trend in the Arctic/North Atlantic oscillation is a response to increasing greenhouse gases, as has been recently suggested.

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Anthony J. Broccoli, Thomas L. Delworth, and Ngar-Cheung Lau

Abstract

The effect of changes in observational coverage on the association between the Arctic oscillation (AO) and extratropical Northern Hemisphere surface temperature is examined. A coupled atmosphere–ocean model, which produces a realistic simulation of the circulation and temperature patterns associated with the AO, is used as a surrogate for the real climate system. The association between the AO and spatial mean temperature, as quantified by regressing the latter on the AO index, is subject to a positive bias due to the incomplete spatial coverage of the observational network. The bias is largest during the early part of the twentieth century and decreases, but does not vanish, thereafter.

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Paul J. Kushner, Isaac M. Held, and Thomas L. Delworth

Abstract

The response of the Southern Hemisphere (SH), extratropical, atmospheric general circulation to transient, anthropogenic, greenhouse warming is investigated in a coupled climate model. The extratropical circulation response consists of a SH summer half-year poleward shift of the westerly jet and a year-round positive wind anomaly in the stratosphere and the tropical upper troposphere. Along with the poleward shift of the jet, there is a poleward shift of several related fields, including the belt of eddy momentum-flux convergence and the mean meridional overturning in the atmosphere and in the ocean. The tropospheric wind response projects strongly onto the model’s “Southern Annular Mode” (also known as the “Antarctic oscillation”), which is the leading pattern of variability of the extratropical zonal winds.

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Salvatore Pascale, Sarah B. Kapnick, Simona Bordoni, and Thomas L. Delworth

Abstract

Widespread multiday convective bursts in the southwestern United States during the North American monsoon are often triggered by Gulf of California moisture surges (GoC surges). However, how GoC surges, and the amount and intensity of associated precipitation, will change in response to CO2-induced warming remains little known, not least because the most widely available climate models do not currently resolve the relevant mesoscale dynamics because of their coarse resolution (100 km or more). In this study, a 50-km-resolution global coupled model is used to address this question. It is found that the mean number of GoC surge events remains unchanged under CO2 doubling, but intermediate-to-high intensity surge-related precipitation tends to become less frequent, thus reducing the mean summertime rainfall. Low-level moisture fluxes associated with GoC surges as well as their convergence over land to the east of the GoC intensify, but the increases in low-level moisture are not matched by the larger increments in the near-surface saturation specific humidity because of amplified land warming. This results in a more unsaturated low-level atmospheric environment that disfavors moist convection. These thermodynamic changes are accompanied by dynamic changes that are also detrimental to convective activity, with the midlevel monsoonal ridge projected to expand and move to the west of its present-day climatological maximum. Despite the overall reduction in precipitation, the frequency of very intense, localized daily surge-related precipitation in Arizona and surrounding areas is projected to increase with increased precipitable water.

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Frederic S. Castruccio, Yohan Ruprich-Robert, Stephen G. Yeager, Gokhan Danabasoglu, Rym Msadek, and Thomas L. Delworth

Abstract

Observed September Arctic sea ice has declined sharply over the satellite era. While most climate models forced by observed external forcing simulate a decline, few show trends matching the observations, suggesting either model deficiencies or significant contributions from internal variability. Using a set of perturbed climate model experiments, we provide evidence that atmospheric teleconnections associated with the Atlantic multidecadal variability (AMV) can drive low-frequency Arctic sea ice fluctuations. Even without AMV-related changes in ocean heat transport, AMV-like surface temperature anomalies lead to adjustments in atmospheric circulation patterns that produce similar Arctic sea ice changes in three different climate models. Positive AMV anomalies induce a decrease in the frequency of winter polar anticyclones, which is reflected both in the sea level pressure as a weakening of the Beaufort Sea high and in the surface temperature as warm anomalies in response to increased low-cloud cover. Positive AMV anomalies are also shown to favor an increased prevalence of an Arctic dipole–like sea level pressure pattern in late winter/early spring. The resulting anomalous winds drive anomalous ice motions (dynamic effect). Combined with the reduced winter sea ice formation (thermodynamic effect), the Arctic sea ice becomes thinner, younger, and more prone to melt in summer. Following a phase shift to positive AMV, the resulting atmospheric teleconnections can lead to a decadal ice thinning trend in the Arctic Ocean on the order of 8%–16% of the reconstructed long-term trend, and a decadal trend (decline) in September Arctic sea ice area of up to 21% of the observed long-term trend.

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Takeshi Doi, Gabriel A. Vecchi, Anthony J. Rosati, and Thomas L. Delworth

Abstract

Using two fully coupled ocean–atmosphere models—Climate Model version 2.1 (CM2.1), developed at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and Climate Model version 2.5 (CM2.5), a new high-resolution climate model based on CM2.1—the characteristics and sources of SST and precipitation biases associated with the Atlantic ITCZ have been investigated.

CM2.5 has an improved simulation of the annual mean and the annual cycle of the rainfall over the Sahel and northern South America, while CM2.1 shows excessive Sahel rainfall and lack of northern South America rainfall in boreal summer. This marked improvement in CM2.5 is due to not only high-resolved orography but also a significant reduction of biases in the seasonal meridional migration of the ITCZ. In particular, the seasonal northward migration of the ITCZ in boreal summer is coupled to the seasonal variation of SST and a subsurface doming of the thermocline in the northeastern tropical Atlantic, known as the Guinea Dome. Improvements in the ITCZ allow for better representation of the coupled processes that are important for an abrupt seasonally phase-locked decay of the interannual SST anomaly in the northern tropical Atlantic.

Nevertheless, the differences between CM2.5 and CM2.1 were not sufficient to reduce the warm SST biases in the eastern equatorial region and Angola–Benguela area. The weak bias of southerly winds along the southwestern African coast associated with the excessive southward migration bias of the ITCZ may be a key to improve the warm SST biases there.

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Honghai Zhang, Thomas L. Delworth, Fanrong Zeng, Gabriel Vecchi, Karen Paffendorf, and Liwei Jia

Abstract

Observed austral summertime (November through April) rainfall in southeastern South America (SESA)—including northern Argentina, Uruguay, southern Brazil, and Paraguay—has exhibited substantial low-frequency variations with a multidecadal moistening trend during the twentieth century and a subsequent decadal drying trend during the current century. Understanding the mechanisms responsible for these variations is essential for predicting long-term rainfall changes. Here with a suite of attribution experiments using a pair of high-resolution global climate models, GFDL CM2.5 and FLOR-FA, the authors investigate the causes of these regional rainfall variations. Both models reproduce the twentieth-century moistening trend, albeit with a weaker magnitude than observed, in response to the radiative forcing associated with increasing greenhouse gases. The increasing greenhouse gases drive tropical expansion; consequently, the subtropical dry branch of Hadley cell moves away from SESA, leading to the rainfall increase. The amplitude discrepancy between the observed and simulated rainfall changes suggests a possible underestimation by the models of the atmospheric response to the radiative forcing, as well as an important role for low-frequency internal variability in the observed moistening trend. Over the current century, increasing greenhouse gases drive a continuous SESA rainfall increase in the models. However, the observed decadal rainfall decline is largely (~60%) reproduced in response to the observed Pacific trade wind strengthening, which is likely associated with natural Pacific decadal variability. These results suggest that the recent summertime rainfall decline in SESA is temporary and that the positive trend will resume in response to both increasing greenhouse gases and a return of Pacific trade winds to normal conditions.

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