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Amy H. Butler and Edwin P. Gerber

Abstract

Various criteria exist for determining the occurrence of a major sudden stratospheric warming (SSW), but the most common is based on the reversal of the climatological westerly zonal-mean zonal winds at 60° latitude and 10 hPa in the winter stratosphere. This definition was established at a time when observations of the stratosphere were sparse. Given greater access to data in the satellite era, a systematic analysis of the optimal parameters of latitude, altitude, and threshold for the wind reversal is now possible. Here, the frequency of SSWs, the strength of the wave forcing associated with the events, changes in stratospheric temperature and zonal winds, and surface impacts are examined as a function of the stratospheric wind reversal parameters. The results provide a methodical assessment of how to best define a standard metric for major SSWs. While the continuum nature of stratospheric variability makes it difficult to identify a decisively optimal threshold, there is a relatively narrow envelope of thresholds that work well—and the original focus at 60° latitude and 10 hPa lies within this window.

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Amy H. Butler, David W. J. Thompson, and Ross Heikes

Abstract

The steady-state extratropical atmospheric response to thermal forcing is investigated in a simple atmospheric general circulation model. The thermal forcings qualitatively mimic three key aspects of anthropogenic climate change: warming in the tropical troposphere, cooling in the polar stratosphere, and warming at the polar surface. The principal novel findings are the following:

1) Warming in the tropical troposphere drives two robust responses in the model extratropical circulation: poleward shifts in the extratropical tropospheric storm tracks and a weakened stratospheric Brewer–Dobson circulation. The former result suggests heating in the tropical troposphere plays a fundamental role in the poleward contraction of the storm tracks found in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-class climate change simulations; the latter result is in the opposite sense of the trends in the Brewer–Dobson circulation found in most previous climate change experiments.

2) Cooling in the polar stratosphere also drives a poleward shift in the extratropical storm tracks. The tropospheric response is largely consistent with that found in previous studies, but it is shown to be very sensitive to the level and depth of the forcing. In the stratosphere, the Brewer–Dobson circulation weakens at midlatitudes, but it strengthens at high latitudes because of anomalously poleward heat fluxes on the flank of the polar vortex.

3) Warming at the polar surface drives an equatorward shift of the storm tracks. The storm-track response to polar warming is in the opposite sense of the response to tropical tropospheric heating; hence large warming over the Arctic may act to attenuate the response of the Northern Hemisphere storm track to tropical heating.

4) The signs of the tropospheric and stratospheric responses to all thermal forcings considered here are robust to seasonal changes in the basic state, but the amplitude and details of the responses exhibit noticeable differences between equinoctial and wintertime conditions. Additionally, the responses exhibit marked nonlinearity in the sense that the response to multiple thermal forcings applied simultaneously is quantitatively different from the sum of the responses to the same forcings applied independently. Thus the response of the model to a given thermal forcing is demonstrably dependent on the other thermal forcings applied to the model.

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Amy H. Butler, David W. J. Thompson, and Thomas Birner

Abstract

Climate change experiments run on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)–class numerical models consistently suggest that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases will lead to a poleward shift of the midlatitude jets and their associated eddy fluxes of heat and potential vorticity (PV). Experiments run on idealized models suggest that the poleward contraction of the jets can be traced to the effects of increased latent heating and thus locally enhanced warming in the tropical troposphere. Here the authors provide new insights into the dynamics of the circulation response to tropical tropospheric heating using transient experiments in an idealized general circulation model.

It is argued that the response of the midlatitude jets to tropical heating is driven fundamentally by 1) the projection of the heating onto the meridional slope of the lower tropospheric isentropic surfaces, and 2) a diffusive model of the eddy fluxes of heat and PV. In the lower and middle troposphere, regions where the meridional slope of the isentropes (i.e., the baroclinicity) is increased are marked by anomalously poleward eddy fluxes of heat, and vice versa. Near the tropopause, regions where the meridional gradients in PV are increased are characterized by anomalously equatorward eddy fluxes of PV, and vice versa. The barotropic component of the response is shown to be closely approximated by the changes in the lower-level heat fluxes. As such, the changes in the eddy fluxes of momentum near the tropopause appear to be driven primarily by the changes in wave generation in the lower troposphere.

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Zane Martin, Adam Sobel, Amy Butler, and Shuguang Wang

Abstract

The stratospheric quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) induces temperature anomalies in the lower stratosphere and tropical tropopause layer (TTL) that are cold when lower-stratospheric winds are easterly and warm when winds are westerly. Recent literature has indicated that these QBO temperature anomalies are potentially important in influencing the tropical troposphere, and particularly in explaining the relationship between the QBO and the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO). The authors examine the variability of QBO temperature anomalies across several time scales using reanalysis and observational datasets. The authors find that, in boreal winter relative to other seasons, QBO temperature anomalies are significantly stronger (i.e., colder in the easterly phase of the QBO and warmer in the westerly phase of the QBO) on the equator, but weaker off the equator. The equatorial and subtropical changes compensate such that meridional temperature gradients and thus (by thermal wind balance) equatorial zonal wind anomalies do not vary in amplitude as the temperature anomalies do. The same pattern of stronger on-equatorial and weaker off-equatorial QBO temperature anomalies is found on decadal time scales: stronger anomalies are seen for 1999–2019 compared to 1979–99. The causes of these changes to QBO temperature anomalies, as well as their possible relevance to the MJO–QBO relationship, are not known.

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Daniela I. V. Domeisen, Amy H. Butler, Kristina Fröhlich, Matthias Bittner, Wolfgang A. Müller, and Johanna Baehr

Abstract

Predictability on seasonal time scales over the North Atlantic–Europe region is assessed using a seasonal prediction system based on an initialized version of the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM). For this region, two of the dominant predictors on seasonal time scales are El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) events. Multiple studies have shown a potential for improved North Atlantic predictability for either predictor. Their respective influences are however difficult to disentangle, since the stratosphere is itself impacted by ENSO. Both El Niño and SSW events correspond to a negative signature of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which has a major influence on European weather.

This study explores the impact on Europe by separating the stratospheric pathway of the El Niño teleconnection. In the seasonal prediction system, the evolution of El Niño events is well captured for lead times of up to 6 months, and stratospheric variability is reproduced with a realistic frequency of SSW events. The model reproduces the El Niño teleconnection through the stratosphere, involving a deepened Aleutian low connected to a warm anomaly in the northern winter stratosphere. The stratospheric anomaly signal then propagates downward into the troposphere through the winter season. Predictability of 500-hPa geopotential height over Europe at lead times of up to 4 months is shown to be increased only for El Niño events that exhibit SSW events, and it is shown that the characteristic negative NAO signal is only obtained for winters also containing major SSW events for both the model and the reanalysis data.

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Amy H. Butler, Dian J. Seidel, Steven C. Hardiman, Neal Butchart, Thomas Birner, and Aaron Match

Abstract

Sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) are large, rapid temperature rises in the winter polar stratosphere, occurring predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere. Major SSWs are also associated with a reversal of the climatological westerly zonal-mean zonal winds. Circulation anomalies associated with SSWs can descend into the troposphere with substantial surface weather impacts, such as wintertime extreme cold air outbreaks. After their discovery in 1952, SSWs were classified by the World Meteorological Organization. An examination of literature suggests that a single, original reference for an exact definition of SSWs is elusive, but in many references a definition involves the reversal of the meridional temperature gradient and, for major warmings, the reversal of the zonal circulation poleward of 60° latitude at 10 hPa.

Though versions of this definition are still commonly used to detect SSWs, the details of the definition and its implementation remain ambiguous. In addition, other SSW definitions have been used in the last few decades, resulting in inconsistent classification of SSW events. We seek to answer the questions: How has the SSW definition changed, and how sensitive is the detection of SSWs to the definition used? For what kind of analysis is a “standard” definition useful? We argue that a standard SSW definition is necessary for maintaining a consistent and robust metric to assess polar stratospheric wintertime variability in climate models and other statistical applications. To provide a basis for, and to encourage participation in, a communitywide discussion currently underway, we explore what criteria are important for a standard definition and propose possible ways to update the definition.

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Lorenzo M. Polvani, Lantao Sun, Amy H. Butler, Jadwiga H. Richter, and Clara Deser

Abstract

Stratospheric conditions are increasingly being recognized as an important driver of North Atlantic and Eurasian climate variability. Mindful that the observational record is relatively short, and that internal climate variability can be large, the authors here analyze a new 10-member ensemble of integrations of a stratosphere-resolving, atmospheric general circulation model, forced with the observed evolution of sea surface temperature (SST) during 1952–2003. Previous studies are confirmed, showing that El Niño conditions enhance the frequency of occurrence of stratospheric sudden warmings (SSWs), whereas La Niña conditions do not appear to affect it. However, large differences are noted among ensemble members, suggesting caution when interpreting the relatively short observational record. More importantly, it is emphasized that the majority of SSWs are not caused by anomalous tropical Pacific SSTs. Comparing composites of winters with and without SSWs in each ENSO phase separately, it is demonstrated that stratospheric variability gives rise to large and statistically significant anomalies in tropospheric circulation and surface conditions over the North Atlantic and Eurasia. This indicates that, for those regions, climate variability of stratospheric origin is comparable in magnitude to variability originating from tropical Pacific SSTs, so that the occurrence of a single SSW in a given winter is able to completely alter seasonal climate predictions based solely on ENSO conditions. These findings, corroborating other recent studies, highlight the importance of accurately forecasting SSWs for improved seasonal prediction of North Atlantic and Eurasian climate.

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Janet Sprintall, Victoria J. Coles, Kevin A. Reed, Amy H. Butler, Gregory R. Foltz, Stephen G. Penny, and Hyodae Seo

Abstract

Process studies are designed to improve our understanding of poorly described physical processes that are central to the behavior of the climate system. They typically include coordinated efforts of intensive field campaigns in the atmosphere and/or ocean to collect a carefully planned set of in situ observations. Ideally the observational portion of a process study is paired with numerical modeling efforts that lead to better representation of a poorly simulated or previously neglected physical process in operational and research models. This article provides a framework of best practices to help guide scientists in carrying out more productive, collaborative, and successful process studies. Topics include the planning and implementation of a process study and the associated web of logistical challenges; the development of focused science goals and testable hypotheses; and the importance of assembling an integrated and compatible team with a diversity of social identity, gender, career stage, and scientific background. Guidelines are also provided for scientific data management, dissemination, and stewardship. Above all, developing trust and continual communication within the science team during the field campaign and analysis phase are key for process studies. We consider a successful process study as one that ultimately will improve our quantitative understanding of the mechanisms responsible for climate variability and enhance our ability to represent them in climate models.

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Edwin P. Gerber, Amy Butler, Natalia Calvo, Andrew Charlton-Perez, Marco Giorgetta, Elisa Manzini, Judith Perlwitz, Lorenzo M. Polvani, Fabrizio Sassi, Adam A. Scaife, Tiffany A. Shaw, Seok-Woo Son, and Shingo Watanabe

Advances in weather and climate research have demonstrated the role of the stratosphere in the Earth system across a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. Stratospheric ozone loss has been identified as a key driver of Southern Hemisphere tropospheric circulation trends, affecting ocean currents and carbon uptake, sea ice, and possibly even the Antarctic ice sheets. Stratospheric variability has also been shown to affect short-term and seasonal forecasts, connecting the tropics and midlatitudes and guiding storm-track dynamics. The two-way interactions between the stratosphere and the Earth system have motivated the World Climate Research Programme's (WCRP) Stratospheric Processes and their Role in Climate's (SPARC) activity on Modelling the Dynamics and Variability of the Stratosphere-Troposphere System (DynVar) to investigate the impact of stratospheric dynamics and variability on climate. This assessment will be made possible by two new multimodel datasets. First, roughly 10 models with a well-resolved stratosphere are participating in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5), providing the first multimodel ensemble of climate simulations coupled from the stratopause to the sea floor. Second, the Stratosphere Resolving Historical Forecast Project (Strat-HFP) of WCRP's Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) program is forming a multimodel set of seasonal hind-casts with stratosphere-resolving models, revealing the impact of both stratospheric initial conditions and dynamics on intraseasonal prediction. The CMIP5 and Strat-HFP model datasets will offer an unprecedented opportunity to understand the role of the stratosphere in the natural and forced variability of the Earth system and to determine whether incorporating knowledge of the middle atmosphere improves seasonal forecasts and climate projections.

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Annarita Mariotti, Cory Baggett, Elizabeth A. Barnes, Emily Becker, Amy Butler, Dan C. Collins, Paul A. Dirmeyer, Laura Ferranti, Nathaniel C. Johnson, Jeanine Jones, Ben P. Kirtman, Andrea L. Lang, Andrea Molod, Matthew Newman, Andrew W. Robertson, Siegfried Schubert, Duane E. Waliser, and John Albers

Abstract

There is high demand and a growing expectation for predictions of environmental conditions that go beyond 0–14-day weather forecasts with outlooks extending to one or more seasons and beyond. This is driven by the needs of the energy, water management, and agriculture sectors, to name a few. There is an increasing realization that, unlike weather forecasts, prediction skill on longer time scales can leverage specific climate phenomena or conditions for a predictable signal above the weather noise. Currently, it is understood that these conditions are intermittent in time and have spatially heterogeneous impacts on skill, hence providing strategic windows of opportunity for skillful forecasts. Research points to such windows of opportunity, including El Niño or La Niña events, active periods of the Madden–Julian oscillation, disruptions of the stratospheric polar vortex, when certain large-scale atmospheric regimes are in place, or when persistent anomalies occur in the ocean or land surface. Gains could be obtained by increasingly developing prediction tools and metrics that strategically target these specific windows of opportunity. Across the globe, reevaluating forecasts in this manner could find value in forecasts previously discarded as not skillful. Users’ expectations for prediction skill could be more adequately met, as they are better aware of when and where to expect skill and if the prediction is actionable. Given that there is still untapped potential, in terms of process understanding and prediction methodologies, it is safe to expect that in the future forecast opportunities will expand. Process research and the development of innovative methodologies will aid such progress.

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