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Alessandra Giannini

Abstract

Application of the moist static energy framework to analyses of vertical stability and net energy in the Sahel sheds light on the divergence of projections of climate change. Two distinct mechanisms are sketched. In one, anthropogenic warming changes continental climate indirectly: warming of the oceans increases moist static energy at upper levels, affecting vertical stability globally, from the top down, and driving drying over the Sahel, in a way analogous to the impact of El Niño–Southern Oscillation on the global tropical atmosphere. In the other, the increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gases drives a direct continental change: the increase in net terrestrial radiation at the surface increases evaporation, favoring vertical instability and near-surface convergence from the bottom up.

In both cases the surface warms, but in the first precipitation and evaporation decrease, while in the second they increase. In the first case, land surface warming is brought about by the remotely forced decrease in precipitation and consequent decrease in evaporation and increase in net solar radiation at the surface. In the second, it is brought about by the increase in net terrestrial radiation at the surface, amplified by the water vapor feedback associated with an increase in near-surface humidity.

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Michael K. Tippett and Alessandra Giannini

Abstract

An ensemble of general circulation model (GCM) integrations forced by observed sea surface temperature (SST) represents the climate response to SST forcing as well as internal variability or “noise.” Signal-to-noise analysis is used to identify the most reproducible GCM patterns of African summer precipitation related to the SST forcing. Two of these potentially predictable components are associated with the precipitation of the Guinea Coast and Sahel regions and correlate well with observations. The GCM predictable component associated with rainfall in the Sahel region reproduces observed temporal variability on both interannual and decadal time scales, though with reduced amplitude.

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Alessandra Giannini, Mark A. Cane, and Yochanan Kushnir

Abstract

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon and variability in the subtropical North Atlantic high sea level pressure (SLP) are known to affect rainfall in the Caribbean region. An El Niño event is associated with drier-than-average conditions during the boreal summer of year (0), and wetter-than-average conditions during the spring of year (+1). Dry conditions during the summer of year (0) of an El Niño are associated with the locally divergent surface circulation engendered by the eastward shift of deep convection in the Pacific Ocean. Wet conditions during the spring of year (+1) of an El Niño are associated with the lagged warming of the tropical North Atlantic Ocean. Variability in the strength of the North Atlantic high is governed mainly by the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) with a positive NAO phase implying a stronger than normal high and vice versa. The NAO is negatively correlated with Caribbean rainfall indirectly via anomalous sea surface temperatures (SST) associated with anomalies in the surface wind speed at tropical latitudes and directly via anomalous subsidence. The combined effect of the two phenomena is found to be strongest when the two signals interfere constructively:

• During the summer following winters characterized by the positive phase of the NAO, the dryness associated with a developing warm ENSO event adds to the dryness associated with a positive SLP anomaly in the subtropical North Atlantic (7 out of 11 El Niños between 1949 and 1999 fall in this category).

• During the spring following winters characterized by the negative phase of the NAO, the wetness that follows a warm ENSO event is augmented by the wetness associated with the warmer-than-average tropical North Atlantic SSTs (5 out of 11 El Niños between 1949 and 1999 fall in this category).

The coincidence in the recurrence of a positive phase of the NAO during the winters coinciding with peak warm ENSO conditions has increased in the last 20 years in comparison with the previous few decades. This partially explains the noticeable consistent dry signal over the Caribbean during the summer of year (0) of a warm ENSO event and the disappearance of the wet signal during the spring of year (+1) in the recent record.

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Alessandra Giannini, Yochanan Kushnir, and Mark A. Cane

Abstract

The large-scale ocean–atmosphere patterns that influence the interannual variability of Caribbean–Central American rainfall are examined. The atmospheric circulation over this region is shaped by the competition between the North Atlantic subtropical high sea level pressure system and the eastern Pacific ITCZ, which influence the convergence patterns on seasonal and interannual timescales.

The authors find the leading modes of interannual sea level pressure (SLP) and SST variability associated with Caribbean rainfall, as selected by canonical correlation analysis, to be an interbasin mode, linking the eastern Pacific with the tropical Atlantic, and an Atlantic mode. North Atlantic SLP affects Caribbean rainfall directly, by changing the patterns of surface flow over the region, and indirectly, through SST anomalies. Anomalously high SLP in the region of the North Atlantic high translates into stronger trade winds, hence cooler SSTs, and less Caribbean rainfall. The interbasin mode, which manifests itself as a zonal seesaw in SLP between the tropical Atlantic and the eastern equatorial Pacific, is correlated with ENSO. When SLP is low in the eastern equatorial Pacific, it is high in the tropical Atlantic: the surface atmospheric flow over the basin is divergent, to the west, toward the eastern Pacific ITCZ, and to the east, toward the tropical North Atlantic. A weakened meridional SLP gradient in the tropical North Atlantic signifies weaker trade winds and the opportunity for SSTs to warm up, reaching peak intensity 2–4 months after the mature phase of an ENSO event. This SST anomaly is particularly evident in the Caribbean–western Atlantic basin.

The tendency is for drier-than-average conditions when the divergent atmospheric flow dominates, during the rainy season preceding the mature phase of a warm ENSO event. The dry season that coincides with the mature phase of ENSO is wetter than average over the northwestern section of the basin, that is, Yucatan, the Caribbean coast of Honduras, and Cuba, and drier than average over the rest of the basin, that is, Costa Rica and northern South America. The following spring, as the atmospheric circulation transitions to normal conditions, the positive SST anomaly that has built up in the basin takes over, favoring convection. The positive precipitation anomaly spreads southeastward, from the northwest to the entire basin. At the start of a new rainy season, it is especially strong over the Greater Antilles.

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Pradipta Parhi, Alessandra Giannini, Pierre Gentine, and Upmanu Lall

Abstract

The evolution of El Niño can be separated into two phases—namely, growth and mature—depending on whether the regional sea surface temperature has adjusted to the tropospheric warming in the remote tropics (tropical regions away from the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean). The western Sahel’s main rainy season (July–September) is shown to be affected by the growth phase of El Niño through (i) a lack of neighboring North Atlantic sea surface warming, (ii) an absence of an atmospheric column water vapor anomaly over the North Atlantic and western Sahel, and (iii) higher atmospheric vertical stability over the western Sahel, resulting in the suppression of mean seasonal rainfall as well as number of wet days. In contrast, the short rainy season (October–December) of tropical eastern Africa is impacted by the mature phase of El Niño through (i) neighboring Indian Ocean sea surface warming, (ii) positive column water vapor anomalies over the Indian Ocean and tropical eastern Africa, and (iii) higher atmospheric vertical instability over tropical eastern Africa, leading to an increase in the mean seasonal rainfall as well as in the number of wet days. While the modulation of the frequency of wet days and seasonal mean accumulation is statistically significant, daily rainfall intensity (for days with rainfall > 1 mm day−1), whether mean, median, or extreme, does not show a significant response in either region. Hence, the variability in seasonal mean rainfall that can be attributed to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon in both regions is likely due to changes in the frequency of rainfall.

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Alexis Berg, Benjamin Lintner, Kirsten Findell, and Alessandra Giannini

Abstract

Prior studies have highlighted West Africa as a regional hotspot of land–atmosphere coupling. This study focuses on the large-scale influence of soil moisture variability on the mean circulation and precipitation in the West African monsoon. A suite of six models from the Global Land–Atmosphere Coupling Experiment (GLACE)-CMIP5 is analyzed. In this experiment, model integrations were performed with soil moisture prescribed to a specified climatological seasonal cycle throughout the simulation, which severs the two-way coupling between soil moisture and the atmosphere. Comparison with the control (interactive soil moisture) simulations indicates that mean June–September monsoon precipitation is enhanced when soil moisture is prescribed. However, contrasting behavior is evident over the seasonal cycle of the monsoon, with core monsoon precipitation enhanced with prescribed soil moisture but early-season precipitation reduced, at least in some models. These impacts stem from the enhancement of evapotranspiration at the dry poleward edge of the monsoon throughout the monsoon season, when soil moisture interactivity is suppressed. The early-season decrease in rainfall with prescribed soil moisture is associated with a delayed poleward advancement of the monsoon, which reflects the relative cooling of the continent from enhanced evapotranspiration, and thus a reduced land–ocean thermal contrast, prior to monsoon onset. On the other hand, during the core/late monsoon season, surface evaporative cooling modifies meridional temperature gradients and, through these gradients, alters the large-scale circulation: the midlevel African easterly jet is displaced poleward while the low-level westerlies are enhanced; this enhances precipitation. These results highlight the remote impacts of soil moisture variability on atmospheric circulation and precipitation in West Africa.

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Catherine Pomposi, Yochanan Kushnir, Alessandra Giannini, and Michela Biasutti

Abstract

Prior research has shown that dry conditions tend to persist in the Sahel when El Niño develops. Yet, during the historic 2015 El Niño, Sahel summer precipitation was anomalously high, particularly in the second half of the season. This seeming inconsistency motivates a reexamination of the variability of precipitation during recent El Niño years. We identify and composite around two different outcomes for Sahel summer season: an anomalously wet season or an anomalously dry season as El Niño develops to its peak conditions over the observational record spanning 1950–2015. We find consistently cool temperatures across the global tropics outside the Niño-3.4 region when the Sahel is anomalously wet during El Niño years and a lack of cooling throughout the tropics when the Sahel is anomalously dry. The striking differences in oceanic surface temperatures between wet years and dry years are consistent with a rearrangement of the entire global circulation in favor of increased rainfall in West Africa despite the presence of El Niño.

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Mimi Stith, Alessandra Giannini, John del Corral, Susana Adamo, and Alex de Sherbinin

Abstract

A spatial analysis is presented that aims to synthesize the evidence for climate and social dimensions of the “regreening” of the Sahel. Using an independently constructed archival database of donor-funded interventions in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal in response to the persistence of drought in the 1970s and 1980s, the spatial distribution of these interventions is examined in relation to population density and to trends in precipitation and in greenness. Three categories of environmental change are classified: 1) regions at the northern grassland/shrubland edge of the Sahel where NDVI varies interannually with precipitation, 2) densely populated cropland regions of the Sahel where significant trends in precipitation and NDVI decouple at interannual time scales, and 3) regions at the southern savanna edge of the Sahel where NDVI variation is independent of precipitation. Examination of the spatial distribution of environmental change, number of development projects, and population density brings to the fore the second category, covering the cropland areas where population density and regreening are higher than average. While few, regions in this category coincide with emerging hotspots of regreening in northern Burkina Faso and southern central Niger known from case study literature. In examining the impact of efforts to rejuvenate the Sahelian environment and livelihoods in the aftermath of the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s against the backdrop of a varying and uncertain climate, the transition from desertification to regreening discourses is framed in the context of adaptation to climate change.

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Anji Seth, Sara A. Rauscher, Michela Biasutti, Alessandra Giannini, Suzana J. Camargo, and Maisa Rojas

Abstract

Analyses of phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) experiments show that the global monsoon is expected to increase in area, precipitation, and intensity as the climate system responds to anthropogenic forcing. Concurrently, detailed analyses for several individual monsoons indicate a redistribution of rainfall from early to late in the rainy season. This analysis examines CMIP5 projected changes in the annual cycle of precipitation in monsoon regions, using a moist static energy framework to evaluate competing mechanisms identified to be important in precipitation changes over land. In the presence of sufficient surface moisture, the local response to the increase in downwelling energy is characterized by increased evaporation, increased low-level moist static energy, and decreased stability with consequent increases in precipitation. A remote mechanism begins with warmer oceans and operates on land regions via a warmer tropical troposphere, increased stability, and decreased precipitation. The remote mechanism controls the projected changes during winter, and the local mechanism controls the switch to increased precipitation during summer in most monsoon regions. During the early summer transition, regions where boundary layer moisture availability is reduced owing to decreases in evaporation and moisture convergence experience an enhanced convective barrier. Regions characterized by adequate evaporation and moisture convergence do not experience reductions in early summer precipitation.

This enhanced convective barrier leads to a redistribution of rainfall from early to late summer, and is robust in the American and African monsoons but muddled in Asia. As described here, viewing monsoons from their inherent ties to the annual cycle could help to fingerprint changes as they evolve.

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Javier García-Serrano, Christophe Cassou, Hervé Douville, Alessandra Giannini, and Francisco J. Doblas-Reyes

Abstract

One of the most robust remote impacts of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the teleconnection to tropical North Atlantic (TNA) sea surface temperature (SST) in boreal spring. However, important questions still remain open. In particular, the timing of the ENSO–TNA relationship lacks understanding. The three previously proposed mechanisms rely on teleconnection dynamics involving a time lag of one season with respect to the ENSO mature phase in winter, but recent results have shown that the persistence of ENSO into spring is necessary for the development of the TNA SST anomalies. Likewise, the identification of the effective atmospheric forcing in the deep TNA to drive the regional air–sea interaction is also lacking. In this manuscript a new dynamical framework to understand the ENSO–TNA teleconnection is proposed, in which a continuous atmospheric forcing is present throughout the ENSO decaying phase. Observational datasets in the satellite era, which include reliable estimates over the ocean, are used to illustrate the mechanism at play. The dynamics rely on the remote Gill-type response to the ENSO zonally compensated heat source over the Amazon basin, associated with perturbations in the Walker circulation. For El Niño conditions, the anomalous diabatic heating in the tropical Pacific is compensated by anomalous diabatic cooling, in association with negative rainfall anomalies and descending motion over northern South America. A pair of anomalous cyclonic circulations is established at upper-tropospheric levels in the tropical Atlantic straddling the equator, displaying a characteristic baroclinic structure with height. In the TNA region, the mirrored anomalous anticyclonic circulation at lower-tropospheric levels weakens the northeasterly trade winds, leading to a reduction in evaporation and of the ocean mixed layer depth, hence to positive SST anomalies. Apart from the dominance of latent heat flux anomalies in the remote response, sensible heat flux and shortwave radiation anomalies also appear to contribute. The “lagged” relationship between mature ENSO in winter and peaking TNA SSTs in spring seems to be phase locked with the seasonal cycle in both the location of the mechanism’s centers of action and regional SST variance.

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