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Antonietta Capotondi and Michael A. Alexander

Abstract

Multicentury preindustrial control simulations from six of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4) models are used to examine the relationship between low-frequency precipitation variations in the Great Plains (GP) region of the United States and global sea surface temperatures (SSTs). This study builds on previous work performed with atmospheric models forced by observed SSTs during the twentieth century and extends it to a coupled model context and longer time series. The climate models used in this study reproduce the precipitation climatology over the United States reasonably well, with maximum precipitation occurring in early summer, as observed. The modeled precipitation time series exhibit negative “decadal” anomalies, identified using a 5-yr running mean, of amplitude comparable to that of the twentieth-century droughts. It is found that low-frequency anomalies over the GP are part of a large-scale pattern of precipitation variations, characterized by anomalies of the same sign as in the GP region over Europe and southern South America and anomalies of opposite sign over northern South America, India, and Australia. The large-scale pattern of the precipitation anomalies is associated with global-scale atmospheric circulation changes; during wet periods in the GP, geopotential heights are raised in the tropics and high latitudes and lowered in the midlatitudes in most models, with the midlatitude jets displaced toward the equator in both hemispheres. Statistically significant correlations are found between the decadal precipitation anomalies in the GP region and tropical Pacific SSTs in all the models. The influence of other oceans (Indian and tropical and North Atlantic), which previous studies have identified as potentially important, appears to be model dependent.

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Antonietta Capotondi, Michael A. Alexander, and Clara Deser

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Observations indicate the existence of two bands of maximum thermocline depth variability centered at ∼10°S and 13°N in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The analysis of a numerical integration performed with the National Center for Atmospheric Research ocean general circulation model (OGCM) forced with observed fluxes of momentum, heat, and freshwater over the period from 1958 to 1997 reveals that the tropical centers of thermocline variability at 10°S and 13°N are associated with first-mode baroclinic Rossby waves forced by anomalous Ekman pumping. In this study the factors that may be responsible for the Rossby wave maxima at 10°S and 13°N, including the amplitude and spatial coherency of the forcing at those latitudes, are systematically investigated. A simple Rossby wave model is used to interpret the OGCM variability and to help to discriminate between the different factors that may produce the tropical maxima. These results indicate that the dominant factor in producing the maximum variability at 10°S and 13°N is the zonal coherency of the Ekman pumping, a characteristic of the forcing that becomes increasingly more pronounced at low frequencies, maximizing at timescales in the decadal range. Local maxima in the amplitude of the forcing, while not explaining the origin of the centers of variability at 10°S and 13°N, appear to affect the sharpness of the variability maxima at low frequencies. Although the Rossby wave model gives an excellent fit to the OGCM, some discrepancies exist: the amplitude of the thermocline variance is generally underestimated by the simple model, and the variability along 13°N is westward intensified in the wave model but reaches a maximum in the central part of the basin in the OGCM. Short Rossby waves excited by small-scale Ekman pumping features, or the presence of higher-order Rossby wave modes may be responsible for the differences in the zonal variance distribution along 13°N.

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Antonietta Capotondi, Prashant D. Sardeshmukh, and Lucrezia Ricciardulli

Abstract

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is commonly viewed as a low-frequency tropical mode of coupled atmosphere–ocean variability energized by stochastic wind forcing. Despite many studies, however, the nature of this broadband stochastic forcing and the relative roles of its high- and low-frequency components in ENSO development remain unclear. In one view, the high-frequency forcing associated with the subseasonal Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) and westerly wind events (WWEs) excites oceanic Kelvin waves leading to ENSO. An alternative view emphasizes the role of the low-frequency stochastic wind components in directly forcing the low-frequency ENSO modes. These apparently distinct roles of the wind forcing are clarified here using a recently released high-resolution wind dataset for 1990–2015. A spectral analysis shows that although the high-frequency winds do excite high-frequency Kelvin waves, they are much weaker than their interannual counterparts and are a minor contributor to ENSO development. The analysis also suggests that WWEs should be viewed more as short-correlation events with a flat spectrum at low frequencies that can efficiently excite ENSO modes than as strictly high-frequency events that would be highly inefficient in this regard. Interestingly, the low-frequency power of the rapid wind forcing is found to be higher during El Niño than La Niña events, suggesting a role also for state-dependent (i.e., multiplicative) noise forcing in ENSO dynamics.

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Antonietta Capotondi, Michael A. Alexander, and Clara Deser

Abstract

Observations indicate the existence of two bands of maximum thermocline depth variability centered at ∼10°S and 13°N in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The analysis of a numerical integration performed with the National Center for Atmospheric Research ocean general circulation model (OGCM) forced with observed fluxes of momentum, heat, and freshwater over the period from 1958 to 1997 reveals that the tropical centers of thermocline variability at 10°S and 13°N are associated with first-mode baroclinic Rossby waves forced by anomalous Ekman pumping. In this study the factors that may be responsible for the Rossby wave maxima at 10°S and 13°N, including the amplitude and spatial coherency of the forcing at those latitudes, are systematically investigated. A simple Rossby wave model is used to interpret the OGCM variability and to help to discriminate between the different factors that may produce the tropical maxima. These results indicate that the dominant factor in producing the maximum variability at 10°S and 13°N is the zonal coherency of the Ekman pumping, a characteristic of the forcing that becomes increasingly more pronounced at low frequencies, maximizing at timescales in the decadal range. Local maxima in the amplitude of the forcing, while not explaining the origin of the centers of variability at 10°S and 13°N, appear to affect the sharpness of the variability maxima at low frequencies. Although the Rossby wave model gives an excellent fit to the OGCM, some discrepancies exist: the amplitude of the thermocline variance is generally underestimated by the simple model, and the variability along 13°N is westward intensified in the wave model but reaches a maximum in the central part of the basin in the OGCM. Short Rossby waves excited by small-scale Ekman pumping features, or the presence of higher-order Rossby wave modes may be responsible for the differences in the zonal variance distribution along 13°N.

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Antonietta Capotondi, Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli, and William R. Holland

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The dynamical consequences of constraining a numerical model with sea surface height data have been investigated. The model used for this study is a quasigeostrophic model of the Gulf Stream region. The data that have been assimilated are maps of sea surface height obtained as the superposition of sea surface height variability deduced from the Geosat altimeter measurements and a mean field constructed from historical hydrographic data. The method used for assimilating the data is the nudging technique. Nudging has been implemented in such a way as to achieve a high degree of convergence of the surface model fields toward the observations. The assimilations of the surface data is thus equivalent to the prescription of a surface pressure boundary condition. The authors analyzed the mechanisms of the model adjustment and the characteristics of the resultant equilibrium state when the surface data are assimilated. Since the surface data are the superposition of a mean component and an eddy component, in order to understand the relative role of these two components in determining the characteristics of the final equilibrium state, two different experiments have been considered: in the first experiment only the climatological mean field is assimilated, while in the second experiment the total surface streamfunction field (mean plus eddies) has been used. It is shown that the model behavior in the presence of the surface data constraint can be conveniently described in terms of baroclinic Fofonoff modes. The prescribed mean component of the surface data acts as a “surface topography” in this problem. Its presence determines a distortion of the geostrophic contours in the subsurface layers, thus constraining the mean circulation in those layers. The intensity of the mean flow is determined by the inflow/outflow conditions at the open boundaries, as well as by eddy forcing and dissipation.

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Antonietta Capotondi, William R. Holland, and Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli

Abstract

The improvement in the climatological behavior of a numerical model as a consequence of the assimilation of surface data is investigated. The model used for this study is a quasigeostrophic (QG) model of the Gulf Stream region. The data that have been assimilated are maps of sea surface height that have been obtained as the superposition of sea surface height variability deduced from the Geosat altimeter measurements and a mean field constructed from historical hydrographic data. The method used for assimilating the data is the nudging technique. Nudging has been implemented in such a way as to achieve a high degree of convergence of the surface model fields toward the observations.

Comparisons of the assimilation results with available in situ observations show a significant improvement in the degree of realism of the climatological model behavior, with respect to the model in which no data are assimilated. The remaining discrepancies in the model mean circulation seem to be mainly associated with deficiencies in the mean component of the surface data that are assimilated. On the other hand, the possibility of building into the model more realistic eddy characteristics through the assimilation of the surface eddy field proves very successful in driving components of the mean model circulation that are in relatively good agreement with the available observations. Comparisons with current meter time series during a time period partially overlapping the Geosat mission show that the model is able to “correctly” extrapolate the instantaneous surface eddy signals to depths of approximately 1500 m. The correlation coefficient between current meter and model time series varies from values close to 0.7 in the top 1500 m to values as low as 0.1–0.2 in the deep ocean.

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Clara Deser, Antonietta Capotondi, R. Saravanan, and Adam S. Phillips

Abstract

Simulations of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon and tropical Atlantic climate variability in the newest version of the Community Climate System Model [version 3 (CCSM3)] are examined in comparison with observations and previous versions of the model. The analyses are based upon multicentury control integrations of CCSM3 at two different horizontal resolutions (T42 and T85) under present-day CO2 concentrations. Complementary uncoupled integrations with the atmosphere and ocean component models forced by observed time-varying boundary conditions allow an assessment of the impact of air–sea coupling upon the simulated characteristics of ENSO and tropical Atlantic variability.

The amplitude and zonal extent of equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature variability associated with ENSO is well simulated in CCSM3 at both resolutions and represents an improvement relative to previous versions of the model. However, the period of ENSO remains too short (2–2.5 yr in CCSM3 compared to 2.5–8 yr in observations), and the sea surface temperature, wind stress, precipitation, and thermocline depth responses are too narrowly confined about the equator. The latter shortcoming is partially overcome in the atmosphere-only and ocean-only simulations, indicating that coupling between the two model components is a contributing cause. The relationships among sea surface temperature, thermocline depth, and zonal wind stress anomalies are consistent with the delayed/recharge oscillator paradigms for ENSO. We speculate that the overly narrow meridional scale of CCSM3's ENSO simulation may contribute to its excessively high frequency. The amplitude and spatial pattern of the extratropical atmospheric circulation response to ENSO is generally well simulated in the T85 version of CCSM3, with realistic impacts upon surface air temperature and precipitation; the simulation is not as good at T42.

CCSM3's simulation of interannual climate variability in the tropical Atlantic sector, including variability intrinsic to the basin and that associated with the remote influence of ENSO, exhibits similarities and differences with observations. Specifically, the observed counterpart of El Niño in the equatorial Atlantic is absent from the coupled model at both horizontal resolutions (as it was in earlier versions of the coupled model), but there are realistic (although weaker than observed) SST anomalies in the northern and southern tropical Atlantic that affect the position of the local intertropical convergence zone, and the remote influence of ENSO is similar in strength to observations, although the spatial pattern is somewhat different.

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Antonietta Capotondi, Michael A. Alexander, Clara Deser, and Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

The output from an ocean general circulation model driven by observed surface forcing (1958–97) is used to examine the evolution and relative timing of the different branches of the Pacific Subtropical–Tropical Cells (STCs) at both interannual and decadal time scales, with emphasis on the 1976–77 climate shift. The STCs consist of equatorward pycnocline transports in the ocean interior and in the western boundary current, equatorial upwelling, and poleward flow in the surface Ekman layer. The interior pycnocline transports exhibit a decreasing trend after the mid-1970s, in agreement with observational transport estimates, and are largely anticorrelated with both the Ekman transports and the boundary current transports at the same latitudes. The boundary current changes tend to compensate for the interior changes at both interannual and decadal time scales. The meridional transport convergence across 9°S and 9°N as well as the equatorial upwelling are strongly correlated with the changes in sea surface temperature (SST) in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. However, meridional transport variations do not occur simultaneously at each longitude, so that to understand the phase relationship between transport and SST variations it is important to consider the baroclinic ocean adjustment through westward-propagating Rossby waves. The anticorrelation between boundary current changes and interior transport changes can also be understood in terms of the baroclinic adjustment process. In this simulation, the pycnocline transport variations appear to be primarily confined within the Tropics, with maxima around 10°S and 13°N, and related to the local wind forcing; a somewhat different perspective from previous studies that have emphasized the role of wind variations in the subtropics.

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Antonietta Capotondi, Michael A. Alexander, Clara Deser, and Arthur J. Miller

Abstract

The output from an ocean general circulation model (OGCM) driven by observed surface forcing is used in conjunction with simpler dynamical models to examine the physical mechanisms responsible for interannual to interdecadal pycnocline variability in the northeast Pacific Ocean during 1958–97, a period that includes the 1976–77 climate shift. After 1977 the pycnocline deepened in a broad band along the coast and shoaled in the central part of the Gulf of Alaska. The changes in pycnocline depth diagnosed from the model are in agreement with the pycnocline depth changes observed at two ocean stations in different areas of the Gulf of Alaska. A simple Ekman pumping model with linear damping explains a large fraction of pycnocline variability in the OGCM. The fit of the simple model to the OGCM is maximized in the central part of the Gulf of Alaska, where the pycnocline variability produced by the simple model can account for ∼70%–90% of the pycnocline depth variance in the OGCM. Evidence of westward-propagating Rossby waves is found in the OGCM, but they are not the dominant signal. On the contrary, large-scale pycnocline depth anomalies have primarily a standing character, thus explaining the success of the local Ekman pumping model. The agreement between the Ekman pumping model and OGCM deteriorates in a large band along the coast, where propagating disturbances within the pycnocline, due to either mean flow advection or boundary waves, appear to play an important role in pycnocline variability. Coastal propagation of pycnocline depth anomalies is especially relevant in the western part of the Gulf of Alaska, where local Ekman pumping-induced changes are anticorrelated with the OGCM pycnocline depth variations. The pycnocline depth changes associated with the 1976–77 climate regime shift do not seem to be consistent with Sverdrup dynamics, raising questions about the nature of the adjustment of the Alaska Gyre to low-frequency wind stress variability.

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Dillon J. Amaya, Michael A. Alexander, Antonietta Capotondi, Clara Deser, Kristopher B. Karnauskas, Arthur J. Miller, and Nathan J. Mantua
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