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Ian M. Ferguson, John A. Dracup, Philip B. Duffy, Philip Pegion, and Siegfried Schubert


Recent studies demonstrate that ocean–atmosphere forcing by persistent sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies is a primary driver of seasonal-to-interannual hydroclimatic variability, including drought events. Other studies, however, conclude that although SST anomalies influence the timing of drought events, their duration and magnitude over continental regions is largely governed by land–atmosphere feedbacks. Here the authors evaluate the direct influence of SST anomalies on the stochastic characteristics of precipitation and drought in two ensembles of AGCM simulations forced with observed (interannually varying) monthly SST and their climatological annual cycle, respectively. Results demonstrate that ocean–atmosphere forcing contributes to the magnitude and persistence of simulated seasonal precipitation anomalies throughout the tropics but over few mid- and high-latitude regions. Significant autocorrelation of simulated seasonal anomalies over oceans is directly forced by persistent SST anomalies; over land, SST anomalies are shown to enhance autocorrelation associated with land–atmosphere feedbacks. SST anomalies are shown to have no significant influence on simulated drought frequency, duration, or magnitude over most midlatitude land regions. Results suggest that severe and sustained drought events may occur in the absence of persistent SST forcing and support recent conclusions that ocean–atmosphere forcing primarily influences the timing of drought events, while duration and magnitude are governed by other mechanisms such as land–atmosphere feedbacks. Further analysis is needed to assess the potential model dependence of results and to quantify the relative contribution of land–atmosphere feedbacks to the long-term stochastic characteristics of precipitation and drought.

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Shannon M. McNeeley, Sarah A. Tessendorf, Heather Lazrus, Tanya Heikkila, Ian M. Ferguson, Jennifer S. Arrigo, Shahzeen Z. Attari, Christina M. Cianfrani, Lisa Dilling, Jason J. Gurdak, Stephanie K. Kampf, Derek Kauneckis, Christine J. Kirchhoff, Juneseok Lee, Benjamin R. Lintner, Kelly M. Mahoney, Sarah Opitz-Stapleton, Pallav Ray, Andy B. South, Andrew P. Stubblefield, and Julie Brugger
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