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Thomas L. Delworth and Fanrong Zeng

Abstract

The impact of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) on the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and large-scale climate is assessed using simulations with three different climate models. Perturbation experiments are conducted in which a pattern of anomalous heat flux corresponding to the NAO is added to the model ocean. Differences between the perturbation experiments and a control illustrate how the model ocean and climate system respond to the NAO. A positive phase of the NAO strengthens the AMOC by extracting heat from the subpolar gyre, thereby increasing deep-water formation, horizontal density gradients, and the AMOC. The flux forcings have the spatial structure of the observed NAO, but the amplitude of the forcing varies in time with distinct periods varying from 2 to 100 yr. The response of the AMOC to NAO variations is small at short time scales but increases up to the dominant time scale of internal AMOC variability (20–30 yr for the models used). The amplitude of the AMOC response, as well as associated oceanic heat transport, is approximately constant as the time scale of the forcing is increased further. In contrast, the response of other properties, such as hemispheric temperature or Arctic sea ice, continues to increase as the time scale of the forcing becomes progressively longer. The larger response is associated with the time integral of the anomalous oceanic heat transport at longer time scales, combined with an increased impact of radiative feedback processes. It is shown that NAO fluctuations, similar in amplitude to those observed over the last century, can modulate hemispheric temperature by several tenths of a degree.

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Thomas R. Knutson and Fanrong Zeng

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Precipitation trends for 1901–2010, 1951–2010, and 1981–2010 over relatively well-observed global land regions are assessed for detectable anthropogenic influences and for consistency with historical simulations from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). The CMIP5 historical all-forcing runs are broadly consistent with the observed trend pattern (1901–2010), but with an apparent low trend bias tendency in the simulations. Despite this bias, observed and modeled trends are statistically consistent over 59% of the analyzed area. Over 20% (9%) of the analyzed area, increased (decreased) precipitation is partly attributable to anthropogenic forcing. These inferred human-induced changes include increases over regions of the north-central United States, southern Canada, Europe, and southern South America and decreases over parts of the Mediterranean region and northern tropical Africa. Trends for the shorter periods (1951–2010 and 1981–2010) do not indicate a prominent low trend bias in the models, as found for the 1901–2010 trends. An atmosphere-only model, forced with observed sea surface temperatures and other climate forcing agents, also underpredicts the observed precipitation increase in the Northern Hemisphere extratropics since 1901. The CMIP5 all-forcing ensemble’s low bias in simulated trends since 1901 is a tentative finding that, if borne out in further studies, suggests that precipitation projections using these regions and models could overestimate future drought risk and underestimate future flooding risk, assuming all other factors equal.

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Jonghun Kam, Thomas R. Knutson, Fanrong Zeng, and Andrew T. Wittenberg
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Thomas R. Knutson, Jonghun Kam, Fanrong Zeng, and Andrew T. Wittenberg
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Jonghun Kam, Thomas R. Knutson, Fanrong Zeng, and Andrew T. Wittenberg
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Jonghun Kam, Thomas R. Knutson, Fanrong Zeng, and Andrew T. Wittenberg
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Thomas R. Knutson, Fanrong Zeng, and Andrew T. Wittenberg

Abstract

Regional surface temperature trends from phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3) and CMIP5 twentieth-century runs are compared with observations—at spatial scales ranging from global averages to individual grid points—using simulated intrinsic climate variability from preindustrial control runs to assess whether observed trends are detectable and/or consistent with the models' historical run trends. The CMIP5 models are also used to detect anthropogenic components of the observed trends, by assessing alternative hypotheses based on scenarios driven with either anthropogenic plus natural forcings combined, or with natural forcings only. Modeled variability is assessed via inspection of control run time series, standard deviation maps, spectral analyses, and low-frequency variance consistency tests. The models are found to provide plausible representations of internal climate variability, although there is room for improvement. The influence of observational uncertainty on the trends is assessed and is found to be generally small in comparison with intrinsic climate variability. Observed temperature trends over 1901–2010 are found to contain detectable anthropogenic warming components over a large fraction (about 80%) of the analyzed global area. In about 70% of the analyzed area, the modeled warming is consistent with the observed trends; in about 10% it is significantly greater than simulated. Regions without detectable warming include the high-latitude North Atlantic Ocean, the eastern United States, and parts of the eastern and northern Pacific Ocean. For 1981–2010, the observed warming trends over only about 30% of the globe are found to contain a detectable anthropogenic warming: this includes a number of regions within about 40°–45° of the equator, particularly in the Indian Ocean, western Pacific, South Asia, and tropical Atlantic.

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Sulagna Ray, Andrew T. Wittenberg, Stephen M. Griffies, and Fanrong Zeng

Abstract

The heat budget of the Pacific equatorial cold tongue (ECT) is explored using the GFDL-FLOR coupled GCM (the forecast-oriented low ocean resolution version of CM2.5) and ocean reanalyses, leveraging the two-layer framework developed in Part I. Despite FLOR’s relatively weak meridional stirring by tropical instability waves (TIWs), the model maintains a reasonable SST and thermocline depth in the ECT via two compensating biases: 1) enhanced monthly-scale vertical advective cooling below the surface mixed layer (SML), due to overly cyclonic off-equatorial wind stress that acts to cool the equatorial source waters; and 2) an excessive SST contrast between the ECT and off-equator areas, which boosts the equatorward heat transport by TIWs. FLOR’s strong advective cooling at the SML base is compensated by strong downward diffusion of heat out of the SML, which then allows FLOR’s ECT to take up a realistic heat flux from the atmosphere. Correcting FLOR’s climatological SST and wind stress biases via flux adjustment (FA) leads to weaker deep advective cooling of the ECT, which then erodes the upper-ocean thermal stratification, enhances vertical mixing, and excessively deepens the thermocline. FA does strengthen FLOR’s meridional shear of the zonal currents in the east Pacific, but this does not amplify either the simulated TIWs or their equatorward heat transport, likely due to FLOR’s coarse zonal ocean resolution. The analysis suggests that to advance coupled simulations of the ECT, improved winds and surface heat fluxes must go hand in hand with improved subseasonal and parameterized ocean processes. Implications for model development and the tropical Pacific observing system are discussed.

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Thomas L. Delworth, Fanrong Zeng, Anthony Rosati, Gabriel A. Vecchi, and Andrew T. Wittenberg

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Portions of western North America have experienced prolonged drought over the last decade. This drought has occurred at the same time as the global warming hiatus—a decadal period with little increase in global mean surface temperature. Climate models and observational analyses are used to clarify the dual role of recent tropical Pacific changes in driving both the global warming hiatus and North American drought. When observed tropical Pacific wind stress anomalies are inserted into coupled models, the simulations produce persistent negative sea surface temperature anomalies in the eastern tropical Pacific, a hiatus in global warming, and drought over North America driven by SST-induced atmospheric circulation anomalies. In the simulations herein the tropical wind anomalies account for 92% of the simulated North American drought during the recent decade, with 8% from anthropogenic radiative forcing changes. This suggests that anthropogenic radiative forcing is not the dominant driver of the current drought, unless the wind changes themselves are driven by anthropogenic radiative forcing. The anomalous tropical winds could also originate from coupled interactions in the tropical Pacific or from forcing outside the tropical Pacific. The model experiments suggest that if the tropical winds were to return to climatological conditions, then the recent tendency toward North American drought would diminish. Alternatively, if the anomalous tropical winds were to persist, then the impact on North American drought would continue; however, the impact of the enhanced Pacific easterlies on global temperature diminishes after a decade or two due to a surface reemergence of warmer water that was initially subducted into the ocean interior.

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