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Ian Eisenman

Abstract

Salt fingers, which occur because of the difference in diffusivities of salt and heat in water, may play an important role in ocean mixing and circulation. Previous studies have suggested the long-time dominance of initially fastest growing finger perturbations. Finger growth has been theoretically derived in terms of the normal modes of the idealized system, which include a growing mode and a pair of decaying internal wave modes. Because these normal modes are not orthogonal, however, transient effects can occur related to the interaction between the modes, as explained by the generalized stability theory of non-normal growth. Initial growth of a perturbation that is not along a normal mode can be faster than the leading normal mode. In this study, the effects of non-normal growth on salt finger formation are investigated. It is shown that some salt finger perturbations that are a superposition of the growing mode and the decaying modes initially grow faster than pure growing normal mode perturbations. These non-normal effects are found to be significant for up to 10 or more e-folding times of the growing normal mode. The generalization of the standard idealized salt finger growth dynamics to include non-normal effects is found to lead to fastest-growing fingers that agree less well with observed fully developed salt fingers than the fastest-growing normal mode previously investigated.

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Emma Beer
and
Ian Eisenman

Abstract

The processes that contribute to the Arctic amplification of global surface warming are often described in the context of climate feedbacks. Previous studies have used a traditional feedback analysis framework to partition the regional surface warming into contributions from each feedback process. However, this partitioning can be complicated by interactions in the climate system. Here we focus instead on the physically intuitive approach of inactivating individual feedback processes during forced warming and evaluating the resulting change in the surface temperature field. We investigate this using a moist energy balance model with spatially varying feedbacks that are specified from comprehensive climate model results. We find that when warming is attributed to each feedback process by comparing how the climate would change if the process were not active, the water vapor feedback is the primary reason that the Arctic region warms more than the tropics, and the lapse rate feedback has a neutral effect on Arctic amplification by cooling the Arctic and the tropics by approximately equivalent amounts. These results are strikingly different from previous feedback analyses, which identified the lapse rate feedback as the largest contributor to Arctic amplification, with the water vapor feedback being the main opposing factor by warming the tropics more than the Arctic region. This highlights the importance of comparing different approaches of analyzing how feedbacks contribute to warming in order to build a better understanding of how feedbacks influence climate changes.

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Erica Rosenblum
and
Ian Eisenman

Abstract

Observations indicate that the Arctic sea ice cover is rapidly retreating while the Antarctic sea ice cover is steadily expanding. State-of-the-art climate models, by contrast, typically simulate a moderate decrease in both the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice covers. However, in each hemisphere there is a small subset of model simulations that have sea ice trends similar to the observations. Based on this, a number of recent studies have suggested that the models are consistent with the observations in each hemisphere when simulated internal climate variability is taken into account. Here sea ice changes during 1979–2013 are examined in simulations from the most recent Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) as well as the Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble (CESM-LE), drawing on previous work that found a close relationship in climate models between global-mean surface temperature and sea ice extent. All of the simulations with 1979–2013 Arctic sea ice retreat as fast as observations are found to have considerably more global warming than observations during this time period. Using two separate methods to estimate the sea ice retreat that would occur under the observed level of global warming in each simulation in both ensembles, it is found that simulated Arctic sea ice retreat as fast as observations would occur less than 1% of the time. This implies that the models are not consistent with the observations. In the Antarctic, simulated sea ice expansion as fast as observations is found to typically correspond with too little global warming, although these results are more equivocal. As a result, the simulations do not capture the observed asymmetry between Arctic and Antarctic sea ice trends. This suggests that the models may be getting the right sea ice trends for the wrong reasons in both polar regions.

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Erica Rosenblum
and
Ian Eisenman

Abstract

The downward trend in Arctic sea ice extent is one of the most dramatic signals of climate change during recent decades. Comprehensive climate models have struggled to reproduce this trend, typically simulating a slower rate of sea ice retreat than has been observed. However, this bias has been widely noted to have decreased in models participating in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) compared with the previous generation of models (CMIP3). Here simulations are examined from both CMIP3 and CMIP5. It is found that simulated historical sea ice trends are influenced by volcanic forcing, which was included in all of the CMIP5 models but in only about half of the CMIP3 models. The volcanic forcing causes temporary simulated cooling in the 1980s and 1990s, which contributes to raising the simulated 1979–2013 global-mean surface temperature trends to values substantially larger than observed. It is shown that this warming bias is accompanied by an enhanced rate of Arctic sea ice retreat and hence a simulated sea ice trend that is closer to the observed value, which is consistent with previous findings of an approximately linear relationship between sea ice extent and global-mean surface temperature. Both generations of climate models are found to simulate Arctic sea ice that is substantially less sensitive to global warming than has been observed. The results imply that much of the difference in Arctic sea ice trends between CMIP3 and CMIP5 occurred because of the inclusion of volcanic forcing, rather than improved sea ice physics or model resolution.

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Ian Eisenman
,
Lisan Yu
, and
Eli Tziperman

Abstract

Westerly wind bursts (WWBs) in the equatorial Pacific occur during the development of most El Niño events and are believed to be a major factor in ENSO’s dynamics. Because of their short time scale, WWBs are normally considered part of a stochastic forcing of ENSO, completely external to the interannual ENSO variability. Recent observational studies, however, suggest that the occurrence and characteristics of WWBs may depend to some extent on the state of ENSO components, implying that WWBs, which force ENSO, are modulated by ENSO itself.

Satellite and in situ observations are used here to show that WWBs are significantly more likely to occur when the warm pool is extended eastward. Based on these observations, WWBs are added to an intermediate complexity coupled ocean–atmosphere ENSO model. The representation of WWBs is idealized such that their occurrence is modulated by the warm pool extent. The resulting model run is compared with a run in which the WWBs are stochastically applied. The modulation of WWBs by ENSO results in an enhancement of the slow frequency component of the WWBs. This causes the amplitude of ENSO events forced by modulated WWBs to be twice as large as the amplitude of ENSO events forced by stochastic WWBs with the same amplitude and average frequency. Based on this result, it is suggested that the modulation of WWBs by the equatorial Pacific SST is a critical element of ENSO’s dynamics, and that WWBs should not be regarded as purely stochastic forcing. In the paradigm proposed here, WWBs are still an important aspect of ENSO’s dynamics, but they are treated as being partially stochastic and partially affected by the large-scale ENSO dynamics, rather than being completely external to ENSO.

It is further shown that WWB modulation by the large-scale equatorial SST field is roughly equivalent to an increase in the ocean–atmosphere coupling strength, making the coupled equatorial Pacific effectively self-sustained.

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Till J. W. Wagner
and
Ian Eisenman

Abstract

Record lows in Arctic sea ice extent have been making frequent headlines in recent years. The change in albedo when sea ice is replaced by open water introduces a nonlinearity that has sparked an ongoing debate about the stability of the Arctic sea ice cover and the possibility of Arctic “tipping points.” Previous studies identified instabilities for a shrinking ice cover in two types of idealized climate models: (i) annual-mean latitudinally varying diffusive energy balance models (EBMs) and (ii) seasonally varying single-column models (SCMs). The instabilities in these low-order models stand in contrast with results from comprehensive global climate models (GCMs), which typically do not simulate any such instability. To help bridge the gap between low-order models and GCMs, an idealized model is developed that includes both latitudinal and seasonal variations. The model reduces to a standard EBM or SCM as limiting cases in the parameter space, thus reconciling the two previous lines of research. It is found that the stability of the ice cover vastly increases with the inclusion of spatial communication via meridional heat transport or a seasonal cycle in solar forcing, being most stable when both are included. If the associated parameters are set to values that correspond to the current climate, the ice retreat is reversible and there is no instability when the climate is warmed. The two parameters have to be reduced by at least a factor of 3 for instability to occur. This implies that the sea ice cover may be substantially more stable than has been suggested in previous idealized modeling studies.

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Shantong Sun
,
Andrew F. Thompson
, and
Ian Eisenman

Abstract

Climate models consistently project (i) a decline in the formation of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) and (ii) a strengthening of the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds in response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcing. These two processes suggest potentially conflicting tendencies of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC): a weakening AMOC due to changes in the North Atlantic but a strengthening AMOC due to changes in the Southern Ocean. Here we focus on the transient evolution of the global ocean overturning circulation in response to a perturbation to the NADW formation rate. We propose that the adjustment of the Indo-Pacific overturning circulation is a critical component in mediating AMOC changes. Using a hierarchy of ocean and climate models, we show that the Indo-Pacific overturning circulation provides the first response to AMOC changes through wave processes, whereas the Southern Ocean overturning circulation responds on longer (centennial to millennial) time scales that are determined by eddy diffusion processes. Changes in the Indo-Pacific overturning circulation compensate AMOC changes, which allows the Southern Ocean overturning circulation to evolve independently of the AMOC, at least over time scales up to many decades. In a warming climate, the Indo-Pacific develops an overturning circulation anomaly associated with the weakening AMOC that is characterized by a northward transport close to the surface and a southward transport in the deep ocean, which could effectively redistribute heat between the basins. Our results highlight the importance of interbasin exchange in the response of the global ocean overturning circulation to a changing climate.

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Yidongfang Si
,
Andrew L. Stewart
, and
Ian Eisenman

Abstract

The Antarctic Slope Current (ASC) plays a central role in redistributing water masses, sea ice, and tracer properties around the Antarctic margins, and in mediating cross-slope exchanges. While the ASC has historically been understood as a wind-driven circulation, recent studies have highlighted important momentum transfers due to mesoscale eddies and tidal flows. Furthermore, momentum input due to wind stress is transferred through sea ice to the ASC during most of the year, yet previous studies have typically considered the circulations of the ocean and sea ice independently. Thus, it remains unclear how the momentum input from the winds is mediated by sea ice, tidal forcing, and transient eddies in the ocean, and how the resulting momentum transfers serve to structure the ASC. In this study the dynamics of the coupled ocean–sea ice–ASC circulation are investigated using high-resolution process-oriented simulations and interpreted with the aid of a reduced-order model. In almost all simulations considered here, sea ice redistributes almost 100% of the wind stress away from the continental slope, resulting in approximately identical sea ice and ocean surface flows in the core of the ASC in a fully spun-up equilibrium state. This ice–ocean coupling results from suppression of vertical momentum transfer by mesoscale eddies over the continental slope, which allows the sea ice to accelerate the ocean surface flow until the speeds coincide. Tidal acceleration of the along-slope flow exaggerates this effect and may even result in ocean-to-ice momentum transfer. The implications of these findings for along- and across-slope transport of water masses and sea ice around Antarctica are discussed.

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Geoffrey Gebbie
,
Ian Eisenman
,
Andrew Wittenberg
, and
Eli Tziperman

Abstract

Westerly wind bursts (WWBs) in the equatorial Pacific are known to play a significant role in the development of El Niño events. They have typically been treated as a purely stochastic external forcing of ENSO. Recent observations, however, show that WWB characteristics depend upon the large-scale SST field. The consequences of such a WWB modulation by SST are examined using an ocean general circulation model coupled to a statistical atmosphere model (i.e., a hybrid coupled model). An explicit WWB component is added to the model with guidance from a 23-yr observational record. The WWB parameterization scheme is constructed such that the likelihood of WWB occurrence increases as the western Pacific warm pool extends: a “semistochastic” formulation, which has both deterministic and stochastic elements. The location of the WWBs is parameterized to migrate with the edge of the warm pool. It is found that modulation of WWBs by SST strongly affects the characteristics of ENSO. In particular, coupled feedbacks between SST and WWBs may be sufficient to transfer the system from a damped regime to one with self-sustained oscillations. Modulated WWBs also play a role in the irregular timing of warm episodes and the asymmetry in the size of warm and cold events in this ENSO model. Parameterizing the modulation of WWBs by an increase of the linear air–sea coupling coefficient seems to miss important dynamical processes, and a purely stochastic representation of WWBs elicits only a weak ocean response. Based upon this evidence, it is proposed that WWBs may need to be treated as an internal part of the coupled ENSO system, and that the detailed knowledge of wind burst dynamics may be necessary to explain the characteristics of ENSO.

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Yosef Ashkenazy
,
Ian Eisenman
,
Hezi Gildor
, and
Eli Tziperman

Abstract

Although the sun crosses the equator 2 times per year at the equinoxes, at times in the past the equatorial insolation has had only one maximum and one minimum throughout the seasonal cycle because of Milankovitch orbital variations. Here a state-of-the-art coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model is used to study the effect of such insolation forcing on equatorial surface properties, including air and sea temperature, salinity, winds, and currents. It is shown that the equatorial seasonality is altered according to the insolation with, for example, either maximum sea surface temperature (SST) close to the vernal equinox and minimum SST close to the autumnal equinox or vice versa. The results may have important implications for understanding tropical climate as well as for the interpretation of proxy data collected from equatorial regions.

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