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Michela Biasutti and Aiko Voigt

Abstract

The Tropical Rain Belts with an Annual Cycle and Continent Model Intercomparison Project (TRACMIP) ensemble—a multimodel ensemble of slab-ocean simulations in idealized configurations—provides a test of the relationship between the zonal mean ITCZ and the cross-equatorial atmospheric energy transports (AHTeq). In a gross sense, the ITCZ position is linearly related to AHTeq, as expected from the energetic framework. Yet, in many aspects, the TRACMIP model simulations do not conform to the framework. Throughout the annual cycle there are large excursions in the ITCZ position unrelated to changes in the AHTeq and, conversely, substantial variations in the magnitude of the AHTeq while the ITCZ is stationary at its northernmost position. Variations both in the net vertical energy input at the ITCZ location and in the vertical profile of ascent play a role in setting the model behavior apart from the conceptual framework. Nevertheless, a linear fit to the ITCZ–AHTeq relationship captures a substantial fraction of the seasonal variations in these quantities as well as the intermodel or across-climate variations in their annual mean values. The slope of the ITCZ–AHTeq linear fit for annual mean changes across simulations with different forcings and configurations varies in magnitude and even sign from model to model and we identify variations in the vertical profile of ascent as a key factor. A simple sea surface temperature–based index avoids the complication of changes in the vertical structure of the atmospheric circulation and provides a more reliable diagnostic for the ITCZ position.

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Dong Eun Lee and Michela Biasutti

Abstract

The performance of the Twentieth-Century Reanalysis (20CR) in reproducing observed monthly mean precipitation over the global domain is compared to that of comprehensive reanalyses that also assimilate upper-air and satellite observations [the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR), ECMWF Interim Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim), and NCEP–U.S. Department of Energy reanalysis (NCEP2)] and to that of an atmospheric general circulation model (GCM) ensemble simulation [Global Ocean Global Atmosphere (GOGA)] that is forced with observed sea surface temperature (SST). Wintertime rainfall variability in the midlatitude continents and storm tracks is captured with great accuracy, similar to the comprehensive reanalyses, but summertime rainfall is not, probably in consequence of the greater importance of convection in the summer season. Over the tropics, the accuracy of all reanalyses is much less than over the midlatitudes. Over tropical land, the performance of 20CR is better than NCEP2 and similar to ERA-Interim and CFSR, but over the tropical oceans the most recent reanalyses perform significantly better. Across the twentieth century, the clearest gain from the assimilation of a denser observational dataset is the expansion of the area of good skill. A comparison of the accuracy and ensemble spread in the 20CR and GOGA ensembles highlights regions where SST forcing is a stronger source of skill than data assimilation for 20CR. In contrast, for some tropical regions such as the Sahel, the assimilation of sea level pressure is effective in constraining precipitation values—but model biases in the teleconnections with global SST limit the performance of 20CR.

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Kuniaki Inoue, Michela Biasutti, and Ann M. Fridlind

Abstract

The column moist static energy (MSE) budget equation approximates the processes associated with column moistening and drying in the tropics, and is therefore predictive of precipitation amplification and decay. We use ERA-Interim (ERA-I) and TRMM 3B42 data to investigate day-to-day convective variability and distinguish the roles of horizontal MSE (or moisture) advection versus vertical advection, sources, and sinks. Over tropical convergence zones, results suggest that horizontal moisture advection is a primary driver of day-to-day precipitation fluctuations; when drying via horizontal moisture advection is smaller (greater) than Chikira’s “column process,” precipitation tends to amplify (decay). In the absence of horizontal moisture advection, precipitation tends to increase spontaneously almost universally through a positive column process feedback. This bulk positive feedback is characterized by negative effective gross moist stability (GMS), which is maintained throughout the tropical convergence zones. How this positive feedback is achieved varies geographically, depending on the shape of vertical velocity (omega) profiles. In regions where omega profiles are top-heavy, the effective GMS is negative primarily owing to strong feedbacks between convection and diabatic MSE sources (radiative and surface fluxes). In these regions, vertical MSE advection stabilizes the atmosphere (positive vertical GMS). Where omega profiles are bottom-heavy, by contrast, a positive feedback is primarily driven by import of MSE through a shallow circulation (negative vertical GMS). The diabatic feedback and vertical GMS are in a seesaw balance, offsetting one another. Our results suggest that ubiquitous convective variability is amplified by the same mechanism as moisture-mode instability.

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Michela Biasutti, Spencer Hill, and Aiko Voigt

Abstract

The TRACMIP (Tropical Rain Belts with an Annual Cycle and Continent Model Intercomparison Project) ensemble includes slab-ocean aquaplanet control simulations and experiments with a highly idealized narrow tropical continent (0°–45°W, 30°S–30°N). We compare the two setups to contrast the characteristics of oceanic and continental rainbands and investigate monsoon development in GCMs with CMIP5-class dynamics and physics. Over land, the rainy season occurs close to the time of maximum insolation. Other than in its timing, the continental rainband remains in an ITCZ-like regime akin to deep-tropical monsoons, with a smooth latitudinal transition, a poleward reach only slightly farther than that of the oceanic ITCZ (about 10°), and a constant width throughout the year. This confinement of the monsoon to the deep tropics is the result of a tight coupling between regional rainfall and circulation anomalies: ventilation of the lower troposphere by the anomalous meridional circulation is the main limiting mechanism, while ventilation by the mean westerly jet aloft is secondary. Comparison of two subsets of TRACMIP simulations indicates that a low heat capacity determines, to a first degree, both the timing and the strength of the regional solsticial circulation; this lends support to the choice of idealizing land as a thin slab ocean in much theoretical literature on monsoon dynamics. Yet, the timing and strength of the monsoon are modulated by the treatment of evaporation over land, especially when moisture and radiation can interact. This points to the need for a fuller exploration of land characteristics in the hierarchical modeling of the tropical rainbands.

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John G. Dwyer, Michela Biasutti, and Adam H. Sobel

Abstract

Models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) project changes to the seasonality of both tropical sea surface temperature (SST) and precipitation when forced by an increase in greenhouse gases. Nearly all models project an amplification and a phase delay of the annual cycle for both quantities, indicating a greater annual range and extrema reached later in the year. The authors investigate the nature of the seasonal precipitation changes in AGCM experiments forced by SST perturbations, which represent idealizations of the changes in annual mean, amplitude, and phase as simulated by CMIP5 models. A uniform SST warming is sufficient to force both amplification and a delay of the annual cycle of precipitation. The amplification is due to an increase in the annual mean vertical water vapor gradient, while the delay is affected by changes in the seasonality of the circulation. A budget analysis of this simulation reveals a large degree of similarity with the CMIP5 results. In the second experiment, only the seasonal characteristics of SST are changed. In response to an amplified annual cycle of SST, the annual cycle of precipitation is amplified, while for a delayed SST, the annual cycle of precipitation is delayed. Assuming that SST changes can entirely explain the seasonal precipitation changes, the AGCM simulations herein suggest that the annual mean warming explains most of the amplitude increase and much of the phase delay in the CMIP5 models. However, imperfect agreement between the changes in the SST-forced AGCM simulations and the CMIP5 coupled simulations suggests that coupled effects may play a significant role.

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Catherine Pomposi, Yochanan Kushnir, Alessandra Giannini, and Michela Biasutti

Abstract

Prior research has shown that dry conditions tend to persist in the Sahel when El Niño develops. Yet, during the historic 2015 El Niño, Sahel summer precipitation was anomalously high, particularly in the second half of the season. This seeming inconsistency motivates a reexamination of the variability of precipitation during recent El Niño years. We identify and composite around two different outcomes for Sahel summer season: an anomalously wet season or an anomalously dry season as El Niño develops to its peak conditions over the observational record spanning 1950–2015. We find consistently cool temperatures across the global tropics outside the Niño-3.4 region when the Sahel is anomalously wet during El Niño years and a lack of cooling throughout the tropics when the Sahel is anomalously dry. The striking differences in oceanic surface temperatures between wet years and dry years are consistent with a rearrangement of the entire global circulation in favor of increased rainfall in West Africa despite the presence of El Niño.

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John G. Dwyer, Michela Biasutti, and Adam H. Sobel

Abstract

When forced with increasing greenhouse gases, global climate models project a delay in the phase and a reduction in the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of surface temperature, expressed as later minimum and maximum annual temperatures and greater warming in winter than in summer. Most of the global mean changes come from the high latitudes, especially over the ocean. All 24 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 models agree on these changes and, over the twenty-first century, average a phase delay of 5 days and an amplitude decrease of 5% for the global mean ocean surface temperature. Evidence is provided that the changes are mainly driven by sea ice loss: as sea ice melts during the twenty-first century, the previously unexposed open ocean increases the effective heat capacity of the surface layer, slowing and damping the temperature response. From the tropics to the midlatitudes, changes in phase and amplitude are smaller and less spatially uniform than near the poles but are still prevalent in the models. These regions experience a small phase delay but an amplitude increase of the surface temperature cycle, a combination that is inconsistent with changes to the effective heat capacity of the system. The authors propose that changes in this region are controlled by changes in surface heat fluxes.

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Ross D. Dixon, Anne Sophie Daloz, Daniel J. Vimont, and Michela Biasutti

Abstract

Representing the West African monsoon (WAM) is a major challenge in climate modeling because of the complex interaction between local and large-scale mechanisms. This study focuses on the representation of a key aspect of West African climate, namely the Saharan heat low (SHL), in 22 global climate models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) multimodel dataset. Comparison of the CMIP5 simulations with reanalyses shows large biases in the strength and location of the mean SHL. CMIP5 models tend to develop weaker climatological heat lows than the reanalyses and place them too far southwest. Models that place the climatological heat low farther to the north produce more mean precipitation across the Sahel, while models that place the heat low farther to the east produce stronger African easterly wave (AEW) activity. These mean-state biases are seen in model ensembles with both coupled and fixed sea surface temperatures (SSTs). The importance of SSTs on West African climate variability is well documented, but this research suggests SSTs are secondary to atmospheric biases for understanding the climatological SHL bias. SHL biases are correlated across the models to local radiative terms, large-scale tropical precipitation, and large-scale pressure and wind across the Atlantic, suggesting that local mechanisms that control the SHL may be connected to climate model biases at a much larger scale.

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Kate Marvel, Michela Biasutti, Céline Bonfils, Karl E. Taylor, Yochanan Kushnir, and Benjamin I. Cook

Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change is predicted to cause spatial and temporal shifts in precipitation patterns. These may be apparent in changes to the annual cycle of zonal mean precipitation P. Trends in the amplitude and phase of the P annual cycle in two long-term, global satellite datasets are broadly similar. Model-derived fingerprints of externally forced changes to the amplitude and phase of the P seasonal cycle, combined with these observations, enable a formal detection and attribution analysis. Observed amplitude changes are inconsistent with model estimates of internal variability but not attributable to the model-predicted response to external forcing. This mismatch between observed and predicted amplitude changes is consistent with the sustained La Niña–like conditions that characterize the recent slowdown in the rise of the global mean temperature. However, observed changes to the annual cycle phase do not seem to be driven by this recent hiatus. These changes are consistent with model estimates of forced changes, are inconsistent (in one observational dataset) with estimates of internal variability, and may suggest the emergence of an externally forced signal.

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Michela Biasutti, Rick D. Russotto, Aiko Voigt, and Charles C. Blackmon-Luca

Abstract

The TRACMIP (Tropical Rain Belts with an Annual Cycle and Continent Model Intercomparison Project) ensemble includes slab-ocean aquaplanet controls and experiments with a highly idealized tropical continent, characterized by modified aquaplanet grid cells with increased evaporative resistance, increased albedo, reduced heat capacity, and no ocean heat transport (zero Q-flux). In the annual mean, an equatorial cold tongue develops west of the continent and induces dry anomalies and a split in the oceanic intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). Ocean cooling is initiated by advection of cold, dry air from the winter portion of the continent; warm, humid anomalies in the summer portion are restricted to the continent by anomalous surface convergence. The surface energy budget suggests that ocean cooling persists and intensifies because of a positive feedback between a colder surface, drier and colder air, reduced downwelling longwave (LW) flux, and enhanced net surface LW cooling (LW feedback). A feedback between wind, evaporation, and SST (so-called WES feedback) also contributes to the establishment and maintenance of the cold tongue. Simulations with a gray-radiation model and simulations that diverge from protocol (with negligible winter cooling) confirm the importance of moist-radiative feedbacks and of rectification effects on the seasonal cycle. This mechanism coupling the continental and oceanic climate might be relevant to the double ITCZ bias. The key role of the LW feedback suggests that the study of interactions between monsoons and oceanic ITCZs requires full-physics models and a hierarchy of land models that considers evaporative processes alongside heat capacity as a defining characteristic of land.

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