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Clara Deser

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the suitability of using linear drag as a proxy for surface friction in the observed climatological-mean momentum balance over the tropical Pacific Ocean. The linear drag parameterization of kinetic energy dissipation in the planetary boundary layer is widely used in simplified models of the tropical atmosphere, and in numerous observational studies of the surface momentum balance. Climatological seasonal-mean fields of sea level pressure and surface wind from the Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set are used to calculate the pressure gradient, Coriolis, and acceleration terms in the momentum budget; friction is derived as a residual. It is found that when friction is parameterized as a linear dissipation of kinetic energy, the damping time scale for the meridional wind is ∼2−3 times faster than the damping time for the zonal wind. The preceding formulation fits the observations well, especially in the trade-wind regions. It is suggested that the different damping coefficients for the zonal (u) and meridional (v) winds are, in part, a reflection of the different vertical profiles of u and v in the planetary boundary layer.

A realistic simulation of the tropical surface wind field from the observed sea level pressure field is obtained using a linear momentum balance with unequal damping lime scales for u and v. With equal damping times, the meridional component of the surface flow is too strong. Nonlinear advection improves the zonal wind simulation in limited regions of the northeast trades equatorial easterlies, and off South America, but only by ∼0.5 m S1.

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Rei Ueyama
and
Clara Deser

Abstract

Hourly measurements from 51 moored buoys in the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean array (9°N–8°S, 165°E–95°W) during 1993–2004 are used to document the climatological seasonal and annual mean patterns of diurnal and semidiurnal near-surface wind variability over the tropical Pacific Ocean. In all seasons, the amplitude of the semidiurnal harmonic is approximately twice as large as the diurnal harmonic for the zonal wind component, while the diurnal harmonic is at least 3 times as large as the semidiurnal harmonic for the meridional wind component, both averaged across the buoy array. Except for the eastern equatorial Pacific, the semidiurnal zonal wind harmonic exhibits uniform amplitude (∼0.14 m s−1) and phase [maximum westerly wind anomalies ∼0325/1525 local time (LT)] across the basin in all seasons. This pattern is well explained by atmospheric thermal tidal theory. The semidiurnal zonal wind signal is diminished over the cold surface waters of the eastern equatorial Pacific where it is associated with enhanced boundary layer stability. Diurnal meridional wind variations tend to be out of phase north and south of the equator (maximum southerly wind anomalies ∼0700 LT at 5°N and ∼1900 LT at 5°S), while a noon southerly wind anomaly maximum is observed on the equator in the eastern Pacific particularly during the cold season (June–November). The diurnal meridional wind variations result in enhanced divergence along the equator and convergence along the southern border of the intertropical convergence zone ∼0700 LT (opposite conditions ∼1900 LT); the amplitude of the divergence diurnal cycle is ∼5 × 10−7 s−1. The diurnal meridional wind variations are largely consistent with the diurnal pressure gradient force.

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Markus Jochum
,
Clara Deser
, and
Adam Phillips

Abstract

Atmospheric general circulation model experiments are conducted to quantify the contribution of internal oceanic variability in the form of tropical instability waves (TIWs) to interannual wind and rainfall variability in the tropical Pacific. It is found that in the tropical Pacific, along the equator, and near 25°N and 25°S, TIWs force a significant increase in wind and rainfall variability from interseasonal to interannual time scales. Because of the stochastic nature of TIWs, this means that climate models that do not take them into account will underestimate the strength and number of extreme events and may overestimate forecast capability.

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Clara Deser
and
Adam S. Phillips

Abstract

This study examines the contribution of tropical sea surface temperature (SST) forcing to the 1976/77 climate transition of the winter atmospheric circulation over the North Pacific using a combined observational and modeling approach. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Atmospheric Model version 3 (CAM3) simulates approximately 75% of the observed 4-hPa deepening of the wintertime Aleutian low from 1950–76 to 1977–2000 when forced with the observed evolution of tropical SSTs in a 10-member ensemble average. This response is driven by precipitation increases over the western half of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In contrast, the NCAR Community Climate Model version 3 (CCM3), the predecessor to CAM3, simulates no significant change in the strength of the Aleutian low when forced with the same tropical SSTs in a 12-member ensemble average. The lack of response in CCM3 is traced to an erroneously large precipitation increase over the tropical Indian Ocean whose dynamical impact is to weaken the Aleutian low; this, when combined with the response to rainfall increases over the western and central equatorial Pacific, results in near-zero net change in the strength of the Aleutian low. The observed distribution of tropical precipitation anomalies associated with the 1976/77 transition, estimated from a combination of direct measurements at land stations and indirect information from surface marine cloudiness and wind divergence fields, supports the models’ simulated rainfall increases over the western half of the Pacific but not the magnitude of CCM3’s rainfall increase over the Indian Ocean.

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Karen A. McKinnon
and
Clara Deser

Abstract

The approximately century-long instrumental record of precipitation over land reflects a single sampling of internal variability. Thus, the spatiotemporal evolution of the observations is only one realization of “what could have occurred” given the same climate system and boundary conditions but different initial conditions. While climate models can be used to produce initial-condition large ensembles that explicitly sample different sequences of internal variability, an analogous approach is not possible for the real world. Here, we explore the use of a statistical model for monthly precipitation to generate synthetic ensembles based on a single record. When tested within the context of the NCAR Community Earth System Model version 1 Large Ensemble (CESM1-LE), we find that the synthetic ensemble can closely reproduce the spatiotemporal statistics of variability and trends in winter precipitation over the extended contiguous United States and that it is difficult to infer the climate change signal in a single record given the magnitude of the variability. We additionally create a synthetic ensemble based on the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC) dataset, termed the GPCC-synth-LE; comparison of the GPCC-synth-LE with the CESM1-based ensembles reveals differences in the spatial structures and magnitudes of variability, highlighting the advantages of an observationally based ensemble. We finally use the GPCC-synth-LE to analyze three water resource metrics in the upper Colorado River basin: frequency of dry, wet, and whiplash years. Thirty-one-year “climatologies” in the GPCC-synth-LE can differ by over 20% in these key water resource metrics due to sampling of internal variability, and individual ensemble members in the GPCC-synth-LE can exhibit large near-monotonic trends over the course of the last century due to sampling of internal variability alone.

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John P. O’Brien
and
Clara Deser

Abstract

While much attention has been given to understanding how anthropogenic radiative forcing influences the mean state of the climate system, far less scrutiny has been paid to how it may modulate naturally occurring modes of variability. This study investigates forced changes to unforced modes of wintertime atmospheric circulation variability and associated impacts on precipitation over the North Pacific and adjacent regions based on the 40-member Community Earth System Model version 1 Large Ensemble across the 1920–2100 period. Each simulation is subject to the same radiative forcing protocol but starts from a slightly different initial condition, leading to different sequences of internal variability. Evolving forced changes in the amplitude and spatial character of the leading internal modes of 500-hPa geopotential height variability are determined by applying empirical orthogonal function analysis across the ensemble dimension at each time step. The results show that the leading modes of internal variability intensify and expand their region of influence in response to anthropogenic forcing, with concomitant impacts on precipitation. Linkages between the Pacific and Atlantic sectors, and between the tropics and extratropics, are also enhanced in the future. These projected changes are driven partly by teleconnections from amplified ENSO activity and partly by dynamical processes intrinsic to the extratropical atmosphere. The marked influence of anthropogenic forcing on the characteristics of internal extratropical atmospheric circulation variability presents fundamental societal challenges to future water resource planning, flood control, and drought mitigation.

Open access
Clara Deser
and
Maurice L. Blackmon

Abstract

The low-frequency variability of the surface climate over the North Atlantic during winter is described, using 90 years of weather observations from the Comprehensive Ocean–Atmosphere Data Set. Results are based on empirical orthogonal function analysis of four components of the climate system: sea surface temperature (SST), air temperature, wind, and sea level pressure. An important mode of variability of the wintertime surface climate over the North Atlantic during this century is characterized by a dipole pattern in SSTs and surface air temperatures, with anomalies of one sign cast of Newfoundland, and anomalies of the opposite polarity off the southeast coast of the United States. Wind fluctuations occur locally over the regions of large surface temperature anomalies, with stronger-than-normal winds overlying cooler-than-normal SSTs. This mode exhibits variability on quasi-decadal and biennial time scales. The decadal fluctuations are irregular in length, averaging ∼9 years before 1945 and ∼12 years afterward. There does not appear to be any difference between the wind-SST relationships on the different lime scales. The decadal fluctuations in SSTs east of Newfoundland are closely linked to decadal variations in sea ice in the Labrador Sea, with periods of greater than normal sea ice extent preceding by ∼2 years periods of colder-than-normal SSTs east of Newfoundland.

Another dominant mode of variability is associated with the global surface warming trend during the 1920s and 1930s. The patterns of SST and air temperature change between 1900–29 and 1939–68 indicate that the warming was concentrated along the Gulf Stream east of Cape Hatteras. Warming also occurred over the Greenland Sea and the eastern subtropical Atlantic. The warming trend was accompanied by a decrease in the strength of the basin-scale atmospheric circulation (negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation). In marked contrast to the dipole pattern, the wind changes occurred downstream of the largest SST anomalies; hence, the gradual surface warming along the Gulf Stream may have been a result of altered ocean currents rather than local wind forcing.

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Clara Deser
and
Maurice L. Blackmon

Abstract

Empirical orthogonal function analysis of winter sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies over the Pacific domain (60°N–20°S) reveals an El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) mode that is linked to the eastern North Pacific, and a North Pacific mode that is linearly independent of ENSO. The North Pacific mode exhibits maximum amplitude and variance explained along ∼40°N, west of ∼170°W. SSTs in this region have decreased by ∼1.5°C from 1950 to 1987. The cooling in winter has been associated with a strengthening of the overlying westerly winds.

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Melissa Gervais
,
Lantao Sun
, and
Clara Deser

Abstract

Future Arctic sea ice loss has a known impact on Arctic amplification (AA) and mean atmospheric circulation. Furthermore, several studies have shown it leads to a decreased variance in temperature over North America. In this study, we analyze results from two fully coupled Community Earth System Model (CESM) Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM4) simulations with sea ice nudged to either the ensemble mean of WACCM historical runs averaged over the 1980–99 period for the control (CTL) or projected RCP8.5 values over the 2080–99 period for the experiment (EXP). Dominant large-scale meteorological patterns (LSMPs) are then identified using self-organizing maps applied to winter daily 500-hPa geopotential height anomalies ( Z 500 ) over North America. We investigate how sea ice loss (EXP − CTL) impacts the frequency of these LSMPs and, through composite analysis, the sensible weather associated with them. We find differences in LSMP frequency but no change in residency time, indicating there is no stagnation of the flow with sea ice loss. Sea ice loss also acts to de-amplify and/or shift the Z 500 that characterize these LSMPs and their associated anomalies in potential temperature at 850 hPa. Impacts on precipitation anomalies are more localized and consistent with changes in anomalous sea level pressure. With this LSMP framework we provide new mechanistic insights, demonstrating a role for thermodynamic, dynamic, and diabatic processes in sea ice impacts on atmospheric variability. Understanding these processes from a synoptic perspective is critical as some LSMPs play an outsized role in producing the mean response to Arctic sea ice loss.

Significance Statement

The goal of this study is to understand how future Arctic sea ice loss might impact daily weather patterns over North America. We use a global climate model to produce one set of simulations where sea ice is similar to present conditions and another that represents conditions at the end of the twenty-first century. Daily patterns in large-scale circulation at roughly 5.5 km in altitude are then identified using a machine learning method. We find that sea ice loss tends to de-amplify these patterns and their associated impacts on temperature nearer the surface. Our methodology allows us to probe more deeply into the mechanisms responsible for these changes, which provides a new way to understand how sea ice loss can impact the daily weather we experience.

Open access
Flavio Lehner
,
Clara Deser
, and
Laurent Terray

Abstract

Time of emergence of anthropogenic climate change is a crucial metric in risk assessments surrounding future climate predictions. However, internal climate variability impairs the ability to make accurate statements about when climate change emerges from a background reference state. None of the existing efforts to explore uncertainties in time of emergence has explicitly explored the role of internal atmospheric circulation variability. Here a dynamical adjustment method based on constructed circulation analogs is used to provide new estimates of time of emergence of anthropogenic warming over North America and Europe from both a local and spatially aggregated perspective. After removing the effects of internal atmospheric circulation variability, the emergence of anthropogenic warming occurs on average two decades earlier in winter and one decade earlier in summer over North America and Europe. Dynamical adjustment increases the percentage of land area over which warming has emerged by about 30% and 15% in winter (10% and 5% in summer) over North America and Europe, respectively. Using a large ensemble of simulations with a climate model, evidence is provided that thermodynamic factors related to variations in snow cover, sea ice, and soil moisture are important drivers of the remaining uncertainty in time of emergence. Model biases in variability lead to an underestimation (13%–22% over North America and <5% over Europe) of the land fraction emerged by 2010 in summer, indicating that the forced warming signal emerges earlier in observations than suggested by models. The results herein illustrate opportunities for future detection and attribution studies to improve physical understanding by explicitly accounting for internal atmospheric circulation variability.

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