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Tapio Schneider and Isaac M. Held

Abstract

An approach to identifying climate changes is presented that does not hinge on simulations of natural climate variations or anthropogenic changes. Observed interdecadal climate variations are decomposed into several discriminants, mutually uncorrelated spatiotemporal components with a maximal ratio of interdecadal-to-intradecadal variance. The dominant discriminants of twentieth-century variations in surface temperature exhibit large-scale warming in which, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere summer months, localized cooling is embedded. The structure of the large-scale warming is consistent with expected effects of increases in greenhouse gas concentrations. The localized cooling, with maxima on scales of 1000–2000 km over East Asia, eastern Europe, and North America, is suggestive of radiative effects of anthropogenic sulfate aerosols.

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Isaac M. Held and Ming Zhao

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The effects on tropical cyclone statistics of doubling CO2, with fixed sea surface temperatures (SSTs), are compared to the effects of a 2-K increase in SST, with fixed CO2, using a 50-km resolution global atmospheric model. Confirming earlier results of Yoshimura and Sugi, a significant fraction of the reduction in globally averaged tropical storm frequency seen in simulations in which both SST and CO2 are increased can be thought of as the effect of the CO2 increase with fixed SSTs. Globally, the model produces a decrease in tropical cyclone frequency of about 10% due to doubling of CO2 and an additional 10% for a 2-K increase in SST, resulting in roughly a 20% reduction when both effects are present. The relative contribution of the CO2 effect to the total reduction is larger in the Northern than in the Southern Hemisphere. The average intensity of storms increases in the model with increasing SST, but intensity remains roughly unchanged, or decreases slightly, with the increase in CO2 alone. As a result, when considering the frequency of more intense cyclones, the intensity increase tends to compensate for the reduced total cyclone numbers for the SST increase in isolation, but not for the CO2 increase in isolation. Changes in genesis in these experiments roughly follow changes in mean vertical motion, reflecting changes in convective mass fluxes. Discussion of one possible perspective on how changes in the convective mass flux might alter genesis rates is provided.

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Ming Zhao and Isaac M. Held

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A tropical cyclone–permitting global atmospheric model is used to explore the hurricane frequency response to sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies generated by coupled models for the late-twenty-first century. Results are presented for SST anomalies averaged over 18 models as well as from 8 individual models. For each basin, there exists large intermodel spread in the magnitude and even the sign of the frequency response among the different SST projections. These sizable variations in response are explored to understand features of SST distributions that are important for the basin-wide hurricane responses. In the North Atlantic, the eastern Pacific, and the southern Indian basins, most (72%–86%) of the intermodel variance in storm frequency response can be explained by a simple relative SST index defined as a basin’s storm development region SST minus the tropical mean SST. The explained variance is significantly lower in the South Pacific (48%) and much lower in the western Pacific basin (27%). Several atmospheric parameters are utilized to probe changes in tropical atmospheric circulation and thermodynamical properties relevant to storm genesis in the model. While all present strong correlation to storm response in some basins, a parameter-measuring tropospheric convective mass flux stands out as skillful in explaining the simulated differences for all basins. Globally, in addition to a modest reduction of total storm frequency, the simulations exhibit a small, but robust eastward and poleward migration of genesis frequency in both the North Pacific and the North Atlantic Oceans. This eastward migration of storms can also be explained by changes in convection.

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Yi Ming and Isaac M. Held

Abstract

This paper introduces an idealized general circulation model (GCM) in which water vapor and clouds are tracked as tracers, but are not allowed to affect circulation through either latent heat release or cloud radiative effects. The cloud scheme includes an explicit treatment of cloud microphysics and diagnoses cloud fraction from a prescribed subgrid distribution of total water. The model is capable of qualitatively capturing many large-scale features of water vapor and cloud distributions outside of the boundary layer and deep tropics. The subtropical dry zones, midlatitude storm tracks, and upper-tropospheric cirrus are simulated reasonably well. The inclusion of cloud microphysics (namely rain re-evaporation) has a modest but significant effect of moistening the lower troposphere in this model. When being subjected to a uniform fractional increase of saturated water vapor pressure, the model produces little change in cloud fraction. A more realistic perturbation, which considers the nonlinearity of the Clausius–Clapeyron relation and spatial structure of CO2-induced warming, results in a substantial reduction in the free-tropospheric cloud fraction. This is reconciled with an increase of relative humidity by analyzing the probability distributions of both quantities, and may help explain partly similar decreases in cloud fraction in full GCMs. The model provides a means to isolate individual processes or model components for studying their influences on cloud simulation in the extratropical free troposphere.

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Ming Zhao and Isaac M. Held

Abstract

A statistical intensity adjustment is utilized to extract information from tropical cyclone simulations in a 50-km-resolution global model. A simple adjustment based on the modeled and observed probability distribution of storm lifetime maximum wind speed allows the model to capture the differences between observed intensity distributions in active/inactive year composites from the 1981–2008 period in the North Atlantic. This intensity adjustment is then used to examine the atmospheric model’s responses to different sea surface temperature anomalies generated by coupled models for the late twenty-first century. In the North Atlantic all simulations produce a reduction in the total number of cyclones, but with large intermodel spread in the magnitude of the reduction. The intensity response is positively correlated with changes in frequency across the ensemble. However, there is, on average, an increase in intensity in these simulations despite the mean reduction in frequency. The authors argue that it is useful to decompose these intensity changes into two parts: an increase in intensity that is intrinsic to the climate change experiments and a change in intensity positively correlated with frequency, just as in the active/inactive historical composites. By isolating the intrinsic component, which is relatively independent of the details of the SST warming pattern, an increase is found in storm-lifetime maximum winds of 5–10 m s−1 for storms with intensities of 30–60 m s−1, by the end of the twenty-first century. The effects of change in frequency, which are dependent on the details of the spatial structure of the warming, must then be superimposed on this intrinsic change.

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Yochanan Kushnir and Isaac M. Held

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The equilibrium general circulation model (GCM) response to sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the western North Atlantic region is studied. A coarse resolution GCM, with realistic lower boundary conditions including topography and climatological SST distribution, is integrated in perpetual January and perpetual October modes, distinguished from one another by the strength of the midlatitude westerlies. An SST anomaly with a maximum of 4°C is added to the climatological SST distribution of the model with both positive and negative polarity. These anomaly runs are compared to one another, and to a control integration, to determine the atmospheric response. In all cases warming (cooling) of the midlatitude ocean surface yields a warming (cooling) of the atmosphere over and to the east of the SST anomaly center. The atmospheric temperature change is largest near the surface and decreases upward. Consistent with this simple thermal response, the geopotential height field displays a baroclinic response with a shallow anomalous low somewhat downstream from the warm SST anomaly. The equivalent barotropic, downstream response is weak and not robust. To help interpret the results, the realistic GCM integrations are compared with parallel idealized model runs. The idealized model has full physics and a similar horizontal and vertical resolution, but an all-ocean surface with a single, permanent zonal asymmetry. The idealized and realistic versions of the GCM display compatible response patterns that are qualitatively consistent with stationary, linear, quasigeostrophic theory. However, the idealized model response is stronger and more coherent. The differences between the two model response patterns can be reconciled based on the size of the anomaly, the model treatment of cloud-radiation interaction, and the static stability of the model atmosphere in the vicinity of the SST anomaly. Model results are contrasted with other GCM studies and observations.

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Isaac M. Held and Karen M. Shell

Abstract

An approach to climate change feedback analysis is described in which tropospheric relative humidity replaces specific humidity as the state variable that, along with the temperature structure, surface albedos, and clouds, controls the magnitude of the response of global mean surface temperature to a radiative forcing. Despite being simply a regrouping of terms in the feedback analysis, this alternative perspective has the benefit of removing most of the pervasive cancellation between water and lapse-rate feedbacks seen in models. As a consequence, the individual feedbacks have less scatter than in the traditional formulation. The role of cloud feedbacks in controlling climate sensitivity is also reflected more clearly in the new formulation.

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Isaac M. Held and Brian J. Soden

Abstract

Using the climate change experiments generated for the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this study examines some aspects of the changes in the hydrological cycle that are robust across the models. These responses include the decrease in convective mass fluxes, the increase in horizontal moisture transport, the associated enhancement of the pattern of evaporation minus precipitation and its temporal variance, and the decrease in the horizontal sensible heat transport in the extratropics. A surprising finding is that a robust decrease in extratropical sensible heat transport is found only in the equilibrium climate response, as estimated in slab ocean responses to the doubling of CO2, and not in transient climate change scenarios. All of these robust responses are consequences of the increase in lower-tropospheric water vapor.

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De-Zheng Sun and Isaac M. Held

Abstract

The correlations between interannual variations of tropical mean water vapor and temperature in the simulations by a low resolution (R15) GCM are stronger than those in the rawinsonde observations. The rate of fractional increase of tropical mean water vapor with temperature in the model simulations is also larger than that from the observations. The largest discrepancies are found in the region immediately above the tropical convective boundary layer (850–600 mb). The rate of fractional increase of tropical mean water vapor with temperature in the model simulations is close to that for a constant relative humidity. The correlations between variations of water vapor in the upper troposphere and those in the lower troposphere are also stronger in the model simulations than in the observations. In the horizontal, the characteristic spatial patterns of the normalized water vapor variations in the model simulations and observations are similar. The water vapor–temperature relationship in simulations by a GCM with a somewhat higher spatial resolution (R30) is almost identical to that in the simulations by the low resolution (R15) GCM. The implications of these findings for the radiative feedback of water vapor are discussed.

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Brian J. Soden and Isaac M. Held
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