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Timothy M. Merlis, Tapio Schneider, Simona Bordoni, and Ian Eisenman

Abstract

Orbital precession changes the seasonal distribution of insolation at a given latitude but not the annual mean. Hence, the correlation of paleoclimate proxies of annual-mean precipitation with orbital precession implies a nonlinear rectification in the precipitation response to seasonal solar forcing. It has previously been suggested that the relevant nonlinearity is that of the Clausius–Clapeyron relationship. Here it is argued that a different nonlinearity related to moisture advection by the atmospheric circulation is more important. When perihelion changes from one hemisphere’s summer solstice to the other’s in an idealized aquaplanet atmospheric general circulation model, annual-mean precipitation increases in the hemisphere with the brighter, warmer summer and decreases in the other hemisphere, in qualitative agreement with paleoclimate proxies that indicate such hemispherically antisymmetric climate variations. The rectification mechanism that gives rise to the precipitation changes is identified by decomposing the perturbation water vapor budget into “thermodynamic” and “dynamic” components. Thermodynamic changes (caused by changes in humidity with unchanged winds) dominate the hemispherically antisymmetric annual-mean precipitation response to precession in the absence of land–sea contrasts. The nonlinearity that enables the thermodynamic changes to affect annual-mean precipitation is a nonlinearity of moisture advection that arises because precession-induced seasonal humidity changes correlate with the seasonal cycle in low-level convergence. This interpretation is confirmed using simulations in which the Clausius–Clapeyron relationship is explicitly linearized. The thermodynamic mechanism also operates in simulations with an idealized representation of land, although in these simulations the dynamic component of the precipitation changes is also important, adding to the thermodynamic precipitation changes in some latitudes and offsetting it in others.

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Eric Bembenek, David N. Straub, and Timothy M. Merlis

Abstract

The effects of moisture on the energetics of a statistically stationary, baroclinically unstable jet representing the midlatitude atmosphere are examined using a two-layer, β-plane shallow-water model. Flow is driven by a relaxation of the interface between the two layers to a baroclinically unstable profile. Moisture is input to the lower layer by evaporation. When supersaturation occurs, precipitation is triggered and the related latent heat release drives a mass transfer between the two layers. A comparison between dry and moist reference atmospheres shows that precipitation reduces eddy kinetic energy. This is related to the meridional distribution of precipitation, which occurs on the poleward side of the jet (where the interface field is raised). This latitudinal structure of precipitation is related to a correlation between poleward flow and ascent, which is analyzed using a shallow-water analog to the ω equation. The precipitation effect on the energy budget is predominately due to zonal- and time-averaged terms. Because of this, dry simulations in which the thermal forcing is modified to mimic the effect of zonally averaged precipitation are carried out and compared with their precipitating counterparts. These simulations show a similar reduction of baroclinic eddy kinetic energy; however, the barotropic eddy kinetic energy response shows a larger difference.

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Malte F. Jansen, Louis-Philippe Nadeau, and Timothy M. Merlis

Abstract

Much of the existing theory for the ocean’s overturning circulation considers steady-state equilibrium solutions. However, Earth’s climate is not in a steady state, and a better understanding of the ocean’s nonequilibrium response to changes in the surface climate is urgently needed. Here, the time-dependent response of the deep-ocean overturning circulation to atmospheric warming is examined using a hierarchy of idealized ocean models. The transient response to surface warming is characterized by a shoaling and weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC)—consistent with results from coupled climate simulations. The initial shoaling and weakening of the AMOC occurs on decadal time scales and is attributed to a rapid warming of northern-sourced deep water. The equilibrium response to warming, in contrast, is associated with a deepening and strengthening of the AMOC. The eventual deepening of the AMOC is argued to be associated with abyssal density changes and driven by modified surface fluxes in the Southern Ocean, following a reduction of the Antarctic sea ice cover. Full equilibration of the AMOC requires a diffusive adjustment of the abyss and takes many millennia. The equilibration time scale is much longer than most coupled climate model simulations, highlighting the importance of considering integration time and initial conditions when interpreting the deep-ocean circulation in climate models. The results also show that past climates are unlikely to be an adequate analog for changes in the overturning circulation during the coming decades or centuries.

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Timothy M. Merlis, Tapio Schneider, Simona Bordoni, and Ian Eisenman

Abstract

The response of the monsoonal and annual-mean Hadley circulation to orbital precession is examined in an idealized atmospheric general circulation model with an aquaplanet slab-ocean lower boundary. Contrary to expectations, the simulated monsoonal Hadley circulation is weaker when perihelion occurs at the summer solstice than when aphelion occurs at the summer solstice. The angular momentum balance and energy balance are examined to understand the mechanisms that produce this result. That the summer with stronger insolation has a weaker circulation is the result of an increase in the atmosphere’s energetic stratification, the gross moist stability, which increases more than the amount required to balance the change in atmospheric energy flux divergence necessitated by the change in top-of-atmosphere net radiation. The solstice-season changes result in annual-mean Hadley circulation changes (e.g., changes in circulation strength).

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Timothy M. Merlis, Isaac M. Held, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, Fanrong Zeng, and Larry W. Horowitz

Abstract

Coupled climate model simulations of volcanic eruptions and abrupt changes in CO2 concentration are compared in multiple realizations of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Climate Model, version 2.1 (GFDL CM2.1). The change in global-mean surface temperature (GMST) is analyzed to determine whether a fast component of the climate sensitivity of relevance to the transient climate response (TCR; defined with the 1% yr−1 CO2-increase scenario) can be estimated from shorter-time-scale climate changes. The fast component of the climate sensitivity estimated from the response of the climate model to volcanic forcing is similar to that of the simulations forced by abrupt CO2 changes but is 5%–15% smaller than the TCR. In addition, the partition between the top-of-atmosphere radiative restoring and ocean heat uptake is similar across radiative forcing agents. The possible asymmetry between warming and cooling climate perturbations, which may affect the utility of volcanic eruptions for estimating the TCR, is assessed by comparing simulations of abrupt CO2 doubling to abrupt CO2 halving. There is slightly less (~5%) GMST change in 0.5 × CO2 simulations than in 2 × CO2 simulations on the short (~10 yr) time scales relevant to the fast component of the volcanic signal. However, inferring the TCR from volcanic eruptions is more sensitive to uncertainties from internal climate variability and the estimation procedure.

The response of the GMST to volcanic eruptions is similar in GFDL CM2.1 and GFDL Climate Model, version 3 (CM3), even though the latter has a higher TCR associated with a multidecadal time scale in its response. This is consistent with the expectation that the fast component of the climate sensitivity inferred from volcanic eruptions is a lower bound for the TCR.

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Andrew P. Ballinger, Timothy M. Merlis, Isaac M. Held, and Ming Zhao

Abstract

The sensitivity of global tropical cyclone (TC) activity to changes in a zonally symmetric sea surface temperature (SST) distribution and the associated large-scale atmospheric circulation are investigated. High-resolution (~50-km horizontal grid spacing) atmospheric general circulation model simulations with maximum SST away from the equator are presented. Simulations with both fixed-SST and slab ocean lower boundary conditions are compared.

The simulated TCs that form on the poleward flank of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) are tracked and changes in the frequency and intensity of those storms are analyzed between the different experiments. The total accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) increases as the location of the maximum SST shifts farther away from the equator. The location of the ITCZ also shifts in conjunction with changes to the SST profile, and this plays an important role in mediating the frequency and intensity of the TCs that form within this modeling framework.

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Matthew Henry, Timothy M. Merlis, Nicholas J. Lutsko, and Brian E. J. Rose

Abstract

The precise mechanisms driving Arctic amplification are still under debate. Previous attribution methods compute the vertically uniform temperature change required to balance the top-of-atmosphere energy imbalance caused by each forcing and feedback, with any departures from vertically uniform warming collected into the lapse-rate feedback. We propose an alternative attribution method using a single-column model that accounts for the forcing dependence of high-latitude lapse-rate changes. We examine this method in an idealized general circulation model (GCM), finding that, even though the column-integrated carbon dioxide (CO2) forcing and water vapor feedback are stronger in the tropics, they contribute to polar-amplified surface warming as they produce bottom-heavy warming in high latitudes. A separation of atmospheric temperature changes into local and remote contributors shows that, in the absence of polar surface forcing (e.g., sea ice retreat), changes in energy transport are primarily responsible for the polar-amplified pattern of warming. The addition of surface forcing substantially increases polar surface warming and reduces the contribution of atmospheric dry static energy transport to the warming. This physically based attribution method can be applied to comprehensive GCMs to provide a clearer view of the mechanisms behind Arctic amplification.

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Ying Li, David W. J. Thompson, Sandrine Bony, and Timothy M. Merlis

Abstract

Extratropical eddy-driven jets are predicted to shift poleward in a warmer climate. Recent studies have suggested that cloud radiative effects (CRE) may enhance the amplitude of such shifts. But there is still considerable uncertainty about the underlying mechanisms, whereby CRE govern the jet response to climate change. This study provides new insights into the role of CRE in the jet response to climate change by exploiting the output from six global warming simulations run with and without atmospheric CRE (ACRE). Consistent with previous studies, it is found that the magnitude of the jet shift under climate change is substantially increased in simulations run with ACRE. It is hypothesized that ACRE enhance the jet response to climate change by increasing the upper-tropospheric baroclinicity due to the radiative effects of rising high clouds. The lifting of the tropopause and high clouds in response to surface warming arises from the thermodynamic constraints placed on water vapor concentrations. Hence, the influence of ACRE on the jet shift in climate change simulations may be viewed as an additional “robust” thermodynamic constraint placed on climate change by the Clausius–Clapeyron relation. The hypothesis is tested in simulations run with an idealized dry GCM, in which the model is perturbed with a thermal forcing that resembles the ACRE response to surface warming. It is demonstrated that 1) the enhanced jet shifts found in climate change simulations run with ACRE are consistent with the atmospheric response to the radiative warming associated with rising high clouds, and 2) the amplitude of the jet shift scales linearly with the amplitude of the ACRE forcing.

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