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Jan Abshagen and Axel Timmermann

Abstract

The bifurcation behavior of a conceptual heat–salt oscillator model is analyzed by means of numerical continuation methods. A global (homoclinic) bifurcation acts as an organizing center for the dynamics of the simplified convective model. It originates from a codimension-2 bifurcation in an extended parameter space. Comparison with earlier work by Cessi shows that the intriguing stochastic thermohaline excitability can be understood from the bifurcation structure of the model. It is argued that global bifurcations may play a crucial role in determining long-term variability of the thermohaline circulation.

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Shayne McGregor and Axel Timmermann

Abstract

This study examines the response of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to massive volcanic eruptions in a suite of coupled general circulation model (CGCM) simulations utilizing the Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3). The authors find that the radiative forcing due to volcanic aerosols injected into the stratosphere induces a model climatic response that projects onto the ENSO mode and initially creates a La Niña event that peaks around the time the volcanic forcing peaks. The curl of the wind stress changes accompanying this volcanically forced equatorial region cooling acts to recharge the equatorial region heat. For weaker volcanic eruptions, this recharging results in an El Niño event about two seasons after the peak of the volcanic forcing. The results of the CCSM3 volcanic forcing experiments lead the authors to propose that the initial tropical Pacific Ocean response to volcanic forcing is determined by four different mechanisms—one process is the dynamical thermostat mechanism (the mean upwelling of anomalous temperature) and the other processes are related to the zonal equatorial gradients of the mean cloud albedo, Newtonian cooling, and mixed layer depth. The zonal gradient in CCSM3 set by both mixed layer depth and Newtonian cooling terms oppose the zonal sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) gradient produced by the dynamical thermostat and initially dominate the mixed layer zonal equatorial heat budget response. Applying this knowledge to a simple volcanically forced mixed layer equation using observed estimates of the spatially varying variables, the authors again find that the mixed layer depth and Newtonian cooling terms oppose and dominate the zonal SSTA gradient produced by the dynamical thermostat. This implies that the observed initial response to volcanic forcing should be La Niña–like not El Niño, as suggested by paleoclimate records.

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Axel Timmermann and Gerrit Lohmann

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A simplified box ocean model for the North Atlantic is used to study the influence of multiplicative short-term climate variability on the stability and long-term dynamics of the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation. A timescale separation between fast temperature and slow salinity fluctuations is used to decouple the dynamical equations resulting in a multiplicative stochastic differential equation for salinity. As a result the qualitative behavior and the stability of the thermohaline circulation become a function of the noise level. This can be understood in terms of the concept of noise-induced transitions. Furthermore, the role of nonvanishing noise autocorrelation times on the dynamics of the thermohaline circulation is investigated. Red noise temperature forcing generates new equilibria, which do not have a deterministic counterpart. This study suggests that noise-induced transitions might have climate relevance.

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Oliver Timm and Axel Timmermann

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The earth system model of intermediate complexity ECBilt-CLIO has been used for transient simulations of the last deglaciation and the Holocene. The forcing effects of the ice sheets, greenhouse gas concentrations, and orbital configurations are prescribed as time-varying boundary conditions. In this study two key aspects of the transient simulations are investigated, which are of broader relevance for long-term transient paleoclimate modeling: the effect of using accelerated boundary conditions and of uncertainties in the initial state. Simulations with nonaccelerated boundary conditions and an acceleration factor 10 were integrated. These simulations show that the acceleration can have a significant impact on the local climate history. In the outcropping regions of the high southern latitudes and the convective regions in the North Atlantic, the acceleration leads to damped and delayed temperature response to the boundary conditions. Furthermore, uncertainties in the initial state can strongly bias the climate trajectories in these areas over 500–700 model years. The affected oceanic regions are connected to the large heat capacities of the interior ocean, which cause a strong delay in the response to the forcing. Despite the shown difficulties with the acceleration technique, the accelerated simulations still reproduce the large-scale trend pattern of air temperatures during the Holocene from previous simulations with different models. The accelerated transient model simulation is compared with existing proxy time series at specific sites. The simulation results are in good agreement with those paleoproxies. It is shown that the transient simulations provide valuable insight into whether seasonal or annual signals are recorded in paleoproxies.

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Kyung-Sook Yun and Axel Timmermann

Abstract

Several climate field reconstruction methods assume stationarity between the leading patterns of variability identified during the instrumental calibration period and the reconstruction period. We examine how and to what extent this restrictive assumption may generate uncertainties in reconstructing past tropical Pacific climate variability. Based on the Last Millennium (850–2005 CE) ensemble simulations conducted with the Community Earth System Model and by developing a series of pseudoproxy reconstructions for different calibration periods, we find that the overall reconstruction skill for global and more regional-scale climate indices depends significantly on the magnitude of externally forced global mean temperature variability during the chosen calibration period. This effect strongly reduces the fidelity of reconstructions of decadal to centennial-scale tropical climate variability, associated with the interdecadal Pacific oscillation (IPO) and centennial-scale temperature shifts between the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) and the Little Ice Age (LIA). In contrast, our pseudoproxy-based analysis demonstrates that reconstructions of interannual El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability are more robust and less affected by changes in calibration period.

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Adam Hugh Monahan, Axel Timmermann, and Gerrit Lohmann
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Axel Timmermann, Fei-Fei Jin, and Jan Abshagen

Abstract

A new mechanism is proposed that explains two key features of the observed El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon—its irregularity and decadal amplitude changes. Using a low-order ENSO model, the authors show that the nonlinearities in the tropical heat budget can lead to bursting behavior characterized by decadal occurrences of strong El Niño events. La Niña events are not affected, a feature that is also seen in ENSO observations. One key result of this analysis is that decadal variability in the Tropics can be generated without invoking extratropical processes or stochastic forcing. The El Niño bursting behavior simulated by the low-order ENSO model can be understood in terms of the concept of homoclinic and heteroclinic connections. It is shown that this new model for ENSO amplitude modulations and irregularity, although difficult to prove, might explain some features of ENSO dynamics seen in more complex climate models and the observations.

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Axel Timmermann, Shayne McGregor, and Fei-Fei Jin

Abstract

Global sea level rise due to the thermal expansion of the warming oceans and freshwater input from melting glaciers and ice sheets is threatening to inundate low-lying islands and coastlines worldwide. At present the global mean sea level rises at 3.1 ± 0.7 mm yr−1 with an accelerating tendency. However, the magnitude of recent decadal sea level trends varies greatly spatially, attaining values of up to 10 mm yr−1 in some areas of the western tropical Pacific. Identifying the causes of recent regional sea level trends and understanding the patterns of future projected sea level change is of crucial importance. Using a wind-forced simplified dynamical ocean model, the study shows that the regional features of recent decadal and multidecadal sea level trends in the tropical Indo-Pacific can be attributed to changes in the prevailing wind regimes. Furthermore, it is demonstrated that within an ensemble of 10 state-of-the-art coupled general circulation models, forced by increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the next century, wind-induced redistributions of upper-ocean water play a key role in establishing the spatial characteristics of projected regional sea level rise. Wind-related changes in near-surface mass and heat convergence near the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, and French Polynesia oppose—but cannot cancel—the regional signal of global mean sea level rise.

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Ben Marzeion, Axel Timmermann, Ragu Murtugudde, and Fei-Fei Jin

Abstract

This study explores the influence of phytoplankton on the tropical Pacific heat budget. A hybrid coupled model for the tropical Pacific that is based on a primitive equation reduced-gravity multilayer ocean model, a dynamic ocean mixed layer, an atmospheric mixed layer, and a statistical atmosphere is used. The statistical atmosphere relates deviations of the sea surface temperature from its mean to wind stress anomalies and allows for the rectification of the annual cycle and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon through the positive Bjerknes feedback. Furthermore, a nine-component ecosystem model is coupled to the physical variables of the ocean. The simulated chlorophyll concentrations can feed back onto the ocean heat budget by their optical properties, which modify solar light absorption in the surface layers. It is shown that both the surface layer concentration as well as the vertical profile of chlorophyll have a significant effect on the simulated mean state, the tropical annual cycle, and ENSO. This study supports a previously suggested hypothesis (Timmermann and Jin) that predicts an influence of phytoplankton concentration of the tropical Pacific climate mean state and its variability. The bioclimate feedback diagnosed here works as follows: Maxima in the subsurface chlorophyll concentrations lead to an enhanced subsurface warming due to the absorption of photosynthetically available shortwave radiation. This warming triggers a deepening of the mixed layer in the eastern equatorial Pacific and eventually a reduction of the surface ocean currents (Murtugudde et al.). The weakened south-equatorial current generates an eastern Pacific surface warming, which is strongly enhanced by the Bjerknes feedback. Because of the deepening of the mixed layer, the strength of the simulated annual cycle is also diminished. This in turn leads to an increase in ENSO variability.

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Flávio Justino, Axel Timmermann, Ute Merkel, and Enio P. Souza

Abstract

A coupled global atmosphere–ocean model of intermediate complexity is used to study the influence of glacial boundary conditions on the atmospheric circulation during the Last Glacial Maximum in a systematical manner. A web of atmospheric interactions is disentangled, which involves changes in the meridional temperature gradient and an associated modulation of the atmospheric baroclinicity. This in turn drives anomalous transient eddy momentum fluxes that feed back onto the zonal mean circulation. Moreover, the modified transient activity (weakened in the North Pacific and strengthened in the North Atlantic) leads to a meridional reorganization of the atmospheric heat transport, thereby feeding back onto the meridional temperature structure. Furthermore, positive barotropic conversion and baroclinic production rates over the Laurentide ice sheets and the far eastern North Pacific have the tendency to decelerate the westerlies, thereby feeding back to the stationary wave changes triggered by orographic forcing.

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