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Jonah Bloch-Johnson
,
Maria Rugenstein
, and
Dorian S. Abbot

Abstract

The sensitivity of the climate to CO2 forcing depends on spatially varying radiative feedbacks that act both locally and nonlocally. We assess whether a method employing multiple regression can be used to estimate local and nonlocal radiative feedbacks from internal variability. We test this method on millennial-length simulations performed with six coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs). Given the spatial pattern of warming, the method does quite well at recreating the top-of-atmosphere flux response for most regions of Earth, except over the Southern Ocean where it consistently overestimates the change, leading to an overestimate of the sensitivity. For five of the six models, the method finds that local feedbacks are positive due to cloud processes, balanced by negative nonlocal shortwave cloud feedbacks associated with regions of tropical convection. For four of these models, the magnitudes of both are comparable to the Planck feedback, so that changes in the ratio between them could lead to large changes in climate sensitivity. The positive local feedback explains why observational studies that estimate spatial feedbacks using only local regressions predict an unstable climate. The method implies that sensitivity in these AOGCMs increases over time due to a reduction in the share of warming occurring in tropical convecting regions and the resulting weakening of associated shortwave cloud and longwave clear-sky feedbacks. Our results provide a step toward an observational estimate of time-varying climate sensitivity by demonstrating that many aspects of spatial feedbacks appear to be the same between internal variability and the forced response.

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Jie He
,
Michael Winton
,
Gabriel Vecchi
,
Liwei Jia
, and
Maria Rugenstein

Abstract

There is large uncertainty in the simulation of transient climate sensitivity. This study aims to understand how such uncertainty is related to the simulation of the base climate by comparing two simulations with the same model but in which CO2 is increased from either a preindustrial (1860) or a present-day (1990) control simulation. This allows different base climate ocean circulations that are representative of those in current climate models to be imposed upon a single model. As a result, the model projects different transient climate sensitivities that are comparable to the multimodel spread. The greater warming in the 1990-start run occurs primarily at high latitudes and particularly over regions of oceanic convection. In the 1990-start run, ocean overturning circulations are initially weaker and weaken less from CO2 forcing. As a consequence, there are smaller reductions in the poleward ocean heat transport, leading to less tropical ocean heat storage and less moderated high-latitude surface warming. This process is evident in both hemispheres, with changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and the Antarctic Bottom Water formation dominating the warming differences in each hemisphere. The high-latitude warming in the 1990-start run is enhanced through albedo and cloud feedbacks, resulting in a smaller ocean heat uptake efficacy. The results highlight the importance of improving the base climate ocean circulation in order to provide a reasonable starting point for assessments of past climate change and the projection of future climate change.

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David B. Bonan
,
Andrew F. Thompson
,
Emily R. Newsom
,
Shantong Sun
, and
Maria Rugenstein

Abstract

The long-term response of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) to climate change remains poorly understood, in part due to the computational expense associated with running atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (GCMs) to equilibrium. Here, we use a collection of millennial-length GCM simulations to examine the transient and equilibrium responses of the AMOC to an abrupt quadrupling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. We find that GCMs consistently simulate an AMOC weakening during the first century but exhibit diverse behaviors over longer time scales, showing different recovery levels. To explain the AMOC behavior, we use a thermal-wind expression, which links the overturning circulation to the meridional density difference between deep-water formation regions and the Atlantic basin. Using this expression, we attribute the evolution of the AMOC on different time scales to changes in temperature and salinity in distinct regions. The initial AMOC shoaling and weakening occurs on centennial time scales and is attributed to a warming of the deep-water formation region. A partial recovery of the AMOC occurs over the next few centuries, and is linked to a simultaneous warming of the Atlantic basin and a positive high-latitude salinity anomaly. The latter reduces the subsurface stratification and reinvigorates deep-water formation. GCMs that exhibit a prolonged AMOC weakening tend to have smaller high-latitude salinity anomalies and increased Arctic sea ice loss. After multiple millennia, the AMOC in some GCMs is stronger than the initial state due to warming of the low-latitude Atlantic. These results highlight the importance of considering high-latitude freshwater changes when examining the past and future evolution of the AMOC evolution on long time scales.

Significance Statement

The long-term response of the ocean’s global overturning circulation to warming remains poorly understood largely because it is expensive to run state-of-the-art climate models. This study makes use of a unique collection of millennial-length climate simulations from different climate models to examine the response of the Atlantic overturning circulation to warming on long time scales. We find that climate models consistently simulate a weakening of the Atlantic overturning circulation during the first century after warming, but disagree on long-term changes, showing different recovery levels of the Atlantic overturning circulation. Using a simple expression, which emulates the evolution of the Atlantic overturning circulation in climate models, we show that climate models with little to no recovery tend to have a small North Atlantic salinity anomaly while climate models with a stronger recovery tend to have a large North Atlantic salinity anomaly. These results highlight the importance of monitoring high-latitude freshwater sources throughout the twenty-first century and considering the relative role of temperature and salinity changes when examining the future and past evolution of the Atlantic overturning circulation on long time scales.

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Kevin Schwarzwald
,
Andrew Poppick
,
Maria Rugenstein
,
Jonah Bloch-Johnson
,
Jiali Wang
,
David McInerney
, and
Elisabeth J. Moyer

Abstract

Changes in precipitation variability can have large societal consequences, whether at the short time scales of flash floods or the longer time scales of multiyear droughts. Recent studies have suggested that in future climate projections, precipitation variability rises more steeply than does its mean, leading to concerns about societal impacts. This work evaluates changes in mean precipitation over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales using a range of models from high-resolution regional simulations to millennial-scale global simulations. Results show that changes depend on the scale of aggregation and involve strong regional differences. On local scales that resolve individual rainfall events (hours and tens of kilometers), changes in precipitation distributions are complex and variances rise substantially more than means, as is required given the well-known disproportionate rise in precipitation intensity. On scales that aggregate across many events, distributional changes become simpler and variability changes smaller. At regional scale, future precipitation distributions can be largely reproduced by a simple transformation of present-day precipitation involving a multiplicative shift and a small additive term. The “extra” broadening is negatively correlated with changes in mean precipitation: in strongly “wetting” areas, distributions broaden less than expected from a simple multiplicative mean change; in “drying” areas, distributions narrow less. Precipitation variability changes are therefore of especial concern in the subtropics, which tend to dry under climate change. Outside the tropics, variability changes are similar on time scales from days to decades (i.e., show little frequency dependence). This behavior is highly robust across models, suggesting it may stem from some fundamental constraint.

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Maria A. A. Rugenstein
,
Jonathan M. Gregory
,
Nathalie Schaller
,
Jan Sedláček
, and
Reto Knutti

Abstract

In radiative forcing and climate feedback frameworks, the initial stratospheric and tropospheric adjustments to a forcing agent can be treated as part of the forcing and not as a feedback, as long as the average global surface temperature response is negligible. Here, a very large initial condition ensemble of the Community Earth System Model is used to analyze how the ocean shapes the fast response to radiative forcing. It is shown that not only the stratosphere and troposphere but also the ocean adjusts. This oceanic adjustment includes meridional ocean heat transport convergence anomalies, which are locally as large as the surface heat flux anomalies, and an increase of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. These oceanic adjustments set the lower boundary condition for the atmospheric response of the first few years, in particular, the shortwave cloud radiative effect. This cloud adjustment causes a nonlinear relationship between global energy imbalance and temperature. It proceeds with a characteristic time scale of a few years in response to the forcing rather than scaling nonlinearly with global mean temperature anomaly. It is proposed that even very short time scales are treated as a fully coupled problem and encourage other modeling groups to investigate whether our description also suits their models’ behavior. A definition of the forcing term (“virtual forcing”) including oceanic adjustment processes is introduced and serves as an interpretive idea for longer time scales.

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Maria A. A. Rugenstein
,
Michael Winton
,
Ronald J. Stouffer
,
Stephen M. Griffies
, and
Robert Hallberg

Abstract

Climate models simulate a wide range of climate changes at high northern latitudes in response to increased CO2. They also have substantial disagreement on projected changes of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). Here, two pairs of closely related climate models are used, with each containing members with large and small AMOC declines to explore the influence of AMOC decline on the high-latitude response to increased CO2. The models with larger AMOC decline have less high-latitude warming and sea ice decline than their small AMOC decline counterpart. By examining differences in the perturbation heat budget of the 40°–90°N region, it is shown that AMOC decline diminishes the warming by weakening poleward ocean heat transport and increasing the ocean heat uptake. The cooling impact of this AMOC-forced surface heat flux perturbation difference is enhanced by shortwave feedback and diminished by longwave feedback and atmospheric heat transport differences. The magnitude of the AMOC decline within model pairs is positively related to the magnitudes of control climate AMOC and Labrador and Nordic Seas convection. Because the 40°–90°N region accounts for up to 40% of the simulated global ocean heat uptake over 100 yr, the process described here influences the global heat uptake efficiency.

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