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Edwin P. Gerber

Abstract

The strength and structure of the Brewer–Dobson circulation (BDC) are explored in an idealized general circulation model. It is shown that diabatic forcing of the stratosphere and planetary wave forcing by the troposphere can have comparable effects on tracer transport through the stratosphere, as quantified by the mean age of air and age spectrum. Their impact, however, is mediated through different controls on the mass circulation. Planetary waves are modulated by changing surface topography. Increased wave forcing strengthens the circulation, particularly at lower levels. This is primarily a tropospheric control on the BDC, as the wave forcing is set by stationary waves at the base of the stratosphere. Stratospheric control of the circulation is effected indirectly through the strength of the stratospheric polar vortex. A colder vortex creates a waveguide higher into the stratosphere, raising the breaking level of Rossby waves and deepening the circulation. Ventilation of mass in the stratosphere depends critically on the depth of tropical upwelling, and so mass and tracer transport is comparably sensitive to both tropospheric and stratospheric controls.

The two controls on the circulation can lead to separate influences on the lower and upper stratosphere, with implications for the seasonal cycle of tropical upwelling. They allow for independent changes in the “shallow” and “deep” branches of the BDC, which may be important for comparing modeled trends with observations. It is also shown that changes in the BDC have a significant impact on the tropical cold point (on the order of degrees) and the equator-to-pole gradient in the tropopause (on the order of a kilometer).

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Angeline G. Pendergrass and Edwin P. Gerber

Abstract

As the planet warms, climate models predict that rain will become heavier but less frequent and that the circulation will weaken. Here, two heuristic models relating moisture, vertical velocity, and rainfall distributions are developed—one in which the distribution of vertical velocity is prescribed and another in which it is predicted. These models are used to explore the response to warming and moistening as well as changes in circulation, atmospheric energy budget, and stability. Some key assumptions of the models include that relative humidity is fixed within and between climate states and that stability is constant within each climate state. The first model shows that an increase in skewness of the vertical velocity distribution is crucial for capturing salient characteristics of the changing distribution of rain, including the muted rate of mean precipitation increase relative to extremes and the decrease in the total number or area of rain events. The second model suggests that this increase in the skewness of the vertical velocity arises from the asymmetric impact of latent heating on vertical motion.

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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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Edwin P. Gerber and David W. J. Thompson

Abstract

Annular patterns with a high degree of zonal symmetry play a prominent role in the natural variability of the atmospheric circulation and its response to external forcing. But despite their apparent importance for understanding climate variability, the processes that give rise to their marked zonally symmetric components remain largely unclear. Here the authors use simple stochastic models in conjunction with an atmospheric model and observational analyses to explore the conditions under which annular patterns arise from empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis of the flow. The results indicate that annular patterns arise not only from zonally coherent fluctuations in the circulation (i.e., “dynamical annularity”) but also from zonally symmetric statistics of the circulation in the absence of zonally coherent fluctuations (i.e., “statistical annularity”). It is argued that the distinction between dynamical and statistical annular patterns derived from EOF analysis can be inferred from the associated variance spectrum: larger differences in the variance explained by an annular EOF and successive EOFs generally indicate underlying dynamical annularity. The authors provide a simple recipe for assessing the conditions that give rise to annular EOFs of the circulation. When applied to numerical models, the recipe indicates dynamical annularity in parameter regimes with strong feedbacks between eddies and the mean flow. When applied to observations, the recipe indicates that annular EOFs generally derive from statistical annularity of the flow in the midlatitude troposphere but from dynamical annularity in both the stratosphere and the mid–high-latitude Southern Hemisphere troposphere.

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Edwin P. Gerber and Geoffrey K. Vallis

Abstract

An idealized atmospheric general circulation model is used to investigate the factors controlling the time scale of intraseasonal (10–100 day) variability of the extratropical atmosphere. Persistence on these time scales is found in patterns of variability that characterize meridional vacillations of the extratropical jet. Depending on the degree of asymmetry in the model forcing, patterns take on similar properties to the zonal index, annular modes, and North Atlantic Oscillation. It is found that the time scale of jet meandering is distinct from the obvious internal model time scales, suggesting that interaction between synoptic eddies and the large-scale flow establish a separate, intraseasonal time scale. A mechanism is presented by which eddy heat and momentum transport couple to retard motion of the jet, slowing its meridional variation and thereby extending the persistence of zonal index and annular mode anomalies. The feedback is strong and quite sensitive to model parameters when the model forcing is zonally uniform. However, the time scale of jet variation drops and nearly all sensitivity to parameters is lost when zonal asymmetries, in the form of topography and thermal perturbations that approximate land–sea contrast, are introduced. A diagnostic on the zonal structure of the zonal index provides intuition on the physical nature of the index and annular modes and hints at why zonal asymmetries limit the eddy–mean flow interactions.

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Edwin P. Gerber and Geoffrey K. Vallis

Abstract

The zonal structure and dynamics of the dipolar patterns of intraseasonal variability in the extratropical atmosphere—namely, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the so-called annular modes of variability—are investigated in an idealized general circulation model. Particular attention is focused on the relationships linking the zonal structure of the stationary waves, synoptic variability (i.e., the storm tracks), and the zonal structure of the patterns of intraseasonal variability. Large-scale topography and diabatic anomalies are introduced to modify and concentrate the synoptic variability, establishing a recipe for a localized storm track. Comparison of the large-scale forcing, synoptic variability, and patterns of intraseasonal variability suggests a nonlinear relationship between the large-scale forcing and the variability. It is found that localized NAO-like patterns arise from the confluence of topographic and diabatic forcing and that the patterns are more localized than one would expect based on superposition of the responses to topography and thermal forcing alone.

The connection between the eddy life cycle of growth and decay and the localization of the intraseasonal variability is investigated. Both the termination of the storm track and the localization of the intraseasonal variability in the GCM depend on a difluent region of weak upper-level flow, where eddies break and dissipate rather than propagate energy forward through downstream development. The authors' interpretation suggests that the North Atlantic storm track and the NAO are two manifestations of the same phenomenon. Conclusions from the GCM study are critiqued by comparison with observations.

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Edwin P. Gerber and Seok-Woo Son

Abstract

The impact of anthropogenic forcing on the summertime austral circulation is assessed across three climate model datasets: the Chemistry–Climate Model Validation activity 2 and phases 3 and 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. Changes in stratospheric ozone and greenhouse gases impact the Southern Hemisphere in this season, and a simple framework based on temperature trends in the lower polar stratosphere and upper tropical troposphere is developed to separate their effects. It suggests that shifts in the jet stream and Hadley cell are driven by changes in the upper-troposphere–lower-stratosphere temperature gradient. The mean response is comparable in the three datasets; ozone has chiefly caused the poleward shift observed in recent decades, while ozone and greenhouse gases largely offset each other in the future.

The multimodel mean perspective, however, masks considerable spread in individual models’ circulation projections. Spread resulting from differences in temperature trends is separated from differences in the circulation response to a given temperature change; both contribute equally to uncertainty in future circulation trends. Spread in temperature trends is most associated with differences in polar stratospheric temperatures, and could be narrowed by reducing uncertainty in future ozone changes. Differences in tropical temperatures are also important, and arise from both uncertainty in future emissions and differences in models’ climate sensitivity. Differences in climate sensitivity, however, only matter significantly in a high emissions future. Even if temperature trends were known, however, differences in the dynamical response to temperature changes must be addressed to substantially narrow spread in circulation projections.

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Edwin P. Gerber and Geoffrey K. Vallis

Abstract

Meridional dipoles of zonal wind and geopotential height are found extensively in empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis and single-point correlation maps of observations and models. Notable examples are the North Atlantic Oscillation and the so-called annular modes (or the Arctic Oscillation). Minimal stochastic models are developed to explain the origin of such structure. In particular, highly idealized, analytic, purely stochastic models of the barotropic, zonally averaged zonal wind and of the zonally averaged surface pressure are constructed, and it is found that the meridional dipole pattern is a natural consequence of the conservation of zonal momentum and mass by fluid motions. Extension of the one-dimensional zonal wind model to two-dimensional flow illustrates the manner in which a local meridional dipole structure may become zonally elongated in EOF analysis, producing a zonally uniform EOF even when the dynamics is not particularly zonally coherent on hemispheric length scales. The analytic system then provides a context for understanding the existence of zonally uniform patterns in models where there are no zonally coherent motions. It is also shown how zonally asymmetric dynamics can give rise to structures resembling the North Atlantic Oscillation. Both the one- and two-dimensional results are manifestations of the same principle: given a stochastic system with a simple red spectrum in which correlations between points in space (or time) decay as the separation between them increases, EOF analysis will typically produce the gravest mode allowed by the system’s constraints. Thus, grave dipole patterns can be robustly expected to arise in the statistical analysis of a model or observations, regardless of the presence or otherwise of a dynamical mode.

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Edwin P. Gerber and Lorenzo M. Polvani

Abstract

The impact of stratospheric variability on the dynamical coupling between the stratosphere and the troposphere is explored in a relatively simple atmospheric general circulation model. Variability of the model’s stratospheric polar vortex, or polar night jet, is induced by topographically forced stationary waves. A robust relationship is found between the strength of the stratospheric polar vortex and the latitude of the tropospheric jet, confirming and extending earlier results in the absence of stationary waves. In both the climatological mean and on intraseasonal time scales, a weaker vortex is associated with an equatorward shift in the tropospheric jet and vice versa.

It is found that the mean structure and variability of the vortex in the model is very sensitive to the amplitude of the topography and that Northern Hemisphere–like variability, with a realistic frequency of stratospheric sudden warming events, occurs only for a relatively narrow range of topographic heights. When the model captures sudden warming events with fidelity, however, the exchange of information both upward and downward between the troposphere and stratosphere closely resembles that in observations. The influence of stratospheric variability on variability in the troposphere is demonstrated by comparing integrations with and without an active stratosphere. A realistic, time-dependent stratospheric circulation increases the persistence of the tropospheric annular modes, and the dynamical coupling is most apparent prior to and following stratospheric sudden warming events.

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Kevin DallaSanta, Edwin P. Gerber, and Matthew Toohey

Abstract

Proxy data and observations suggest that large tropical volcanic eruptions induce a poleward shift of the North Atlantic jet stream in boreal winter. However, there is far from universal agreement in models on this effect and its mechanism, and the possibilities of a corresponding jet shift in the Southern Hemisphere or the summer season have received little attention. Using a hierarchy of simplified atmospheric models, this study examines the impact of stratospheric aerosol on the extratropical circulation over the annual cycle. In particular, the models allow the separation of the dominant shortwave (surface cooling) and longwave (stratospheric warming) impacts of volcanic aerosol. It is found that stratospheric warming shifts the jet poleward in both the summer and winter hemispheres. The experiments cannot definitively rule out the role of surface cooling, but they provide no evidence that it shifts the jet poleward. Further study with simplified models demonstrates that the response to stratospheric warming is remarkably generic and does not depend critically on the boundary conditions (e.g., the planetary wave forcing) or the atmospheric physics (e.g., the treatment of radiative transfer and moist processes). It does, however, fundamentally involve both zonal-mean and eddy circulation feedbacks. The time scales, seasonality, and structure of the response provide further insight into the mechanism, as well as its connection to modes of intrinsic natural variability. These findings have implications for the interpretation of comprehensive model studies and for postvolcanic prediction.

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