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Richard I. Cullather and Michael G. Bosilovich

Abstract

The atmospheric moisture budget from the Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) is evaluated in polar regions for the period 1979–2005 and compared with previous estimates, accumulation syntheses over polar ice sheets, and in situ Arctic precipitation observations. The system is based on a nonspectral background model and utilizes the incremental analysis update scheme. The annual moisture convergence from MERRA for the north polar cap is comparable to previous estimates using 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Re-Analysis (ERA-40) and earlier reanalyses but it is more than 50% larger than MERRA precipitation minus evaporation (PE) computed from physics output fields. This imbalance is comparable to earlier reanalyses for the Arctic. For the south polar cap, the imbalance is 20%. The MERRA physics output fields are also found to be overly sensitive to changes in the satellite observing system, particularly over data-sparse regions of the Southern Ocean. Comparisons between MERRA and prognostic fields from two contemporary reanalyses yield a spread of values from 6% of the mean over the Antarctic Ice Sheet to 61% over a domain of the Arctic Ocean. These issues highlight continued problems associated with the representation of cold-climate physical processes in global data assimilation models. The distribution of MERRA surface fluxes over the major polar ice sheets emphasizes larger values along the coastal escarpments, which agrees more closely with recent assessments of ice sheet accumulation using regional models. Differences between these results and earlier assessments illustrate a continued ambiguity in the surface moisture flux distribution over Greenland and Antarctica. The higher spatial and temporal resolution as well as the availability of all budget components, including analysis increments in MERRA, offer prospects for an improved representation of the high-latitude water cycle in reanalyses.

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Richard I. Cullather and Michael G. Bosilovich

Abstract

Components of the atmospheric energy budget from the Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) are evaluated in polar regions for the period 1979–2005 and compared with previous estimates, in situ observations, and contemporary reanalyses. Closure of the budget is reflected by the analysis increments term, which indicates an energy surplus of 11 W m−2 over the North Polar cap (70°–90°N) and 22 W m−2 over the South Polar cap (70°–90°S). Total atmospheric energy convergence from MERRA compares favorably with previous studies for northern high latitudes but exceeds the available previous estimate for the South Polar cap by 46%. Discrepancies with the Southern Hemisphere energy transport are largest in autumn and may be related to differences in topography with earlier reanalyses. For the Arctic, differences between MERRA and other sources in top of atmosphere (TOA) and surface radiative fluxes are largest in May. These differences are concurrent with the largest discrepancies between MERRA parameterized and observed surface albedo. For May, in situ observations of the upwelling shortwave flux in the Arctic are 80 W m−2 larger than MERRA, while the MERRA downwelling longwave flux is underestimated by 12 W m−2 throughout the year. Over grounded ice sheets, the annual mean net surface energy flux in MERRA is erroneously nonzero. Contemporary reanalyses from the Climate Forecast Center (CFSR) and the Interim Re-Analyses of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ERA-I) are found to have better surface parameterizations; however, these reanalyses also disagree with observed surface and TOA energy fluxes. Discrepancies among available reanalyses underscore the challenge of reproducing credible estimates of the atmospheric energy budget in polar regions.

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