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F. R. Robertson
,
M. G. Bosilovich
,
J. B. Roberts
,
R. H. Reichle
,
R. Adler
,
L. Ricciardulli
,
W. Berg
, and
G. J. Huffman

Abstract

Motivated by the question of whether recent interannual to decadal climate variability and a possible “climate shift” may have affected the global water balance, we examine precipitation minus evaporation (P – E) variability integrated over the global oceans and global land for the period 1979–2010 from three points of view—remotely sensed retrievals and syntheses over the oceans, reanalysis vertically integrated moisture flux convergence (VMFC) over land, and land surface models (LSMs) forced with observations-based precipitation, radiation, and near-surface meteorology.

Over land, reanalysis VMFC and P − evapotranspiration (ET) from observationally forced LSMs agree on interannual variations (e.g., El Niño/La Niña events); however, reanalyses exhibit upward VMFC trends 3–4 times larger than P − ET trends of the LSMs. Experiments with other reanalyses using reduced observations show that upward VMFC trends in the full reanalyses are due largely to observing system changes interacting with assimilation model physics. The much smaller P − ET trend in the LSMs appears due to changes in frequency and amplitude of warm events after the 1997/98 El Niño, a result consistent with coolness in the eastern tropical Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) after that date.

When integrated over the global oceans, E and especially P variations show consistent signals of El Niño/La Niña events. However, at scales longer than interannual there is considerable uncertainty especially in E. This results from differences among datasets in near-surface atmospheric specific humidity and wind speed used in bulk aerodynamic retrievals. The P variations, all relying substantially on passive microwave retrievals over ocean, also have uncertainties in decadal variability, but to a smaller degree.

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