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T. Delworth, S. Manabe, and R. J. Stouffer

Abstract

A fully coupled ocean-atmosphere model is shown to have irregular oscillations of the thermohaline circulation in the North Atlantic Ocean with a time scale of approximately 50 years. The irregular oscillation appears to be driven by density anomalies in the sinking region of the thermohaline circulation (approximately 52°N to 72°N) combined with much smaller density anomalies of opposite sign in the broad, rising region. The spatial pattern of see surface temperature anomalies associated with this irregular oscillation bears an encouraging resemblance to a pattern of observed interdecadal variability in the North Atlantic. The anomalies of sea surface temperature induce model surface air temperature anomalies over the northern North Atlantic, Arctic, and northwestern Europe.

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S. Zhang, A. Rosati, and T. Delworth

Abstract

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) has an important influence on climate, and yet adequate observations of this circulation are lacking. Here, the authors assess the adequacy of past and current widely deployed routine observing systems for monitoring the AMOC and associated North Atlantic climate. To do so, this study draws on two independent simulations of the twentieth century using an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) coupled climate model. One simulation is treated as “truth” and is sampled according to the observing system being evaluated. The authors then assimilate these synthetic “observations” into the second simulation within a fully coupled system that instantaneously exchanges information among all coupled components and produces a nearly balanced and coherent estimate for global climate states including the North Atlantic climate system. The degree to which the assimilation recovers the truth is an assessment of the adequacy of the observing system being evaluated. As the coupled system responds to the constraint of the atmosphere or ocean, the assessment of the recovery for climate quantities such as Labrador Sea Water (LSW) and the North Atlantic Oscillation increases the understanding of the factors that determine AMOC variability. For example, the low-frequency sea surface forcings provided by the atmospheric and sea surface temperature observations are found to excite a LSW variation that governs the long-time-scale variability of the AMOC. When the most complete modern observing system, consisting of atmospheric winds and temperature, is used along with Argo ocean temperature and salinity down to 2000 m, a skill estimate of AMOC reconstruction is 90% (out of 100% maximum). Similarly encouraging results hold for other quantities, such as the LSW. The past XBT observing system, in which deep-ocean temperature and salinity were not available, has a lesser ability to recover the truth AMOC (the skill is reduced to 52%). While these results raise concerns about the ability to properly characterize past variations of the AMOC, they also hold promise for future monitoring of the AMOC and for initializing prediction models.

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E. Moreno-Chamarro, J. Marshall, and T. L. Delworth

Abstract

We examine the link between migrations in the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) and changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), Atlantic multidecadal variability (AMV), and Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO). We use a coupled climate model that allows us to integrate over climate noise and assess underlying mechanisms. We use an ensemble of ten 300-yr-long simulations forced by a 50-yr oscillatory North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)-derived surface heat flux anomaly in the North Atlantic, and a 4000-yr-long preindustrial control simulation performed with GFDL CM2.1. In both setups, an AMV phase change induced by a change in the AMOC’s cross-equatorial heat transport forces an atmospheric interhemispheric energy imbalance that is compensated by a change in the cross-equatorial atmospheric heat transport due to a meridional ITCZ shift. Such linkages occur on decadal time scales in the ensemble driven by the imposed forcing, and internally on multicentennial time scales in the control. Regional precipitation anomalies differ between the ensemble and the control for a zonally averaged ITCZ shift of similar magnitude, which suggests a dependence on time scale. Our study supports observational evidence of an AMV–ITCZ link in the twentieth century and further links it to the AMOC, whose long-time-scale variability can influence the phasing of ITCZ migrations. In contrast to the AMV, our calculations suggest that the PDO does not drive ITCZ migrations, because the PDO does not modulate the interhemispheric energy balance.

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S. Zhang, M. Winton, A. Rosati, T. Delworth, and B. Huang

Abstract

The non-Gaussian probability distribution of sea ice concentration makes it difficult to directly assimilate sea ice observations into a climate model. Because of the strong impact of the atmospheric and oceanic forcing on the sea ice state, any direct assimilation adjustment on sea ice states is easily overridden by model physics. A new approach implements sea ice data assimilation in enthalpy space where a sea ice model represents a nonlinear function that transforms a positive-definite space into the sea ice concentration subspace. Results from observation–assimilation experiments using a conceptual pycnocline prediction model that characterizes the influences of sea ice on the decadal variability of the climate system show that the new scheme efficiently assimilates “sea ice observations” into the model: while improving sea ice variability itself, it consistently improves the estimates of all “climate” components. The resulted coupled initialization that is physically consistent among all coupled components significantly improves decadal-scale predictability of the coupled model.

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

Abstract

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

Abstract

Observations and climate simulations exhibit epochs of extreme El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) behavior that can persist for decades. Previous studies have revealed a wide range of ENSO responses to forcings from greenhouse gases, aerosols, and orbital variations, but they have also shown that interdecadal modulation of ENSO can arise even without such forcings. The present study examines the predictability of this intrinsically generated component of ENSO modulation, using a 4000-yr unforced control run from a global coupled GCM [GFDL Climate Model, version 2.1 (CM2.1)] with a fairly realistic representation of ENSO. Extreme ENSO epochs from the unforced simulation are reforecast using the same (“perfect”) model but slightly perturbed initial conditions. These 40-member reforecast ensembles display potential predictability of the ENSO trajectory, extending up to several years ahead. However, no decadal-scale predictability of ENSO behavior is found. This indicates that multidecadal epochs of extreme ENSO behavior can arise not only intrinsically but also delicately and entirely at random. Previous work had shown that CM2.1 generates strong, reasonably realistic, decadally predictable high-latitude climate signals, as well as tropical and extratropical decadal signals that interact with ENSO. However, those slow variations appear not to lend significant decadal predictability to this model’s ENSO behavior, at least in the absence of external forcings. While the potential implications of these results are sobering for decadal predictability, they also offer an expedited approach to model evaluation and development, in which large ensembles of short runs are executed in parallel, to quickly and robustly evaluate simulations of ENSO. Further implications are discussed for decadal prediction, attribution of past and future ENSO variations, and societal vulnerability.

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M. Srokosz, M. Baringer, H. Bryden, S. Cunningham, T. Delworth, S. Lozier, J. Marotzke, and R. Sutton

Observations and numerical modeling experiments provide evidence for links between variability in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and global climate patterns. Reduction in the strength of the overturning circulation is thought to have played a key role in rapid climate change in the past and may have the potential to significantly influence climate change in the future, as noted in the last two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports (Houghton et al.; Solomon et al.). Both IPCC reports also highlighted the significant uncertainties that exist regarding the future behavior of the AMOC under global warming. Model results suggest that changes in the AMOC can impact surface air temperature, precipitation patterns, and sea level, particularly in areas bordering the North Atlantic, thus affecting human populations. Here, the current understanding of past, present, and future changes in the AMOC and the effects of such changes on climate are reviewed. The focus is on observations of the AMOC, how the AMOC influences climate, and in what way the AMOC is likely to change over the next few decades and the twenty-first century. The potential for decadal prediction of the AMOC is also discussed. Finally, the outstanding challenges and possible future directions for AMOC research are outlined.

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S. Rutherford, M. E. Mann, T. L. Delworth, and R. J. Stouffer

Abstract

The fidelity of climate reconstructions employing covariance-based calibration techniques is tested with varying levels of sparseness of available data during intervals of relatively constant (stationary) and increasing (nonstationary) forcing. These tests employ a regularized expectation-maximization algorithm using surface temperature data from both the instrumental record and coupled ocean–atmosphere model integrations. The results indicate that if radiative forcing is relatively constant over a data-rich calibration period and increases over a data-sparse reconstruction period, the imputed temperatures in the reconstruction period may be biased and may underestimate the true temperature trend. However, if radiative forcing is stationary over a data-sparse reconstruction period and increases over a data-rich calibration period, the imputed values in the reconstruction period are nearly unbiased. These results indicate that using the data-rich part of the twentieth-century instrumental record (which contains an increasing temperature trend plausibly associated with increasing radiative forcing) for calibration does not significantly bias reconstructions of prior climate.

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Xiaosong Yang, G. A. Vecchi, T. L. Delworth, K. Paffendorf, L. Jia, R. Gudgel, F. Zeng, and Seth D. Underwood
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T. R. Knutson, T. L. Delworth, K. W. Dixon, I. M. Held, J. Lu, V. Ramaswamy, M. D. Schwarzkopf, G. Stenchikov, and R. J. Stouffer

Abstract

Historical climate simulations of the period 1861–2000 using two new Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) global climate models (CM2.0 and CM2.1) are compared with observed surface temperatures. All-forcing runs include the effects of changes in well-mixed greenhouse gases, ozone, sulfates, black and organic carbon, volcanic aerosols, solar flux, and land cover. Indirect effects of tropospheric aerosols on clouds and precipitation processes are not included. Ensembles of size 3 (CM2.0) and 5 (CM2.1) with all forcings are analyzed, along with smaller ensembles of natural-only and anthropogenic-only forcing, and multicentury control runs with no external forcing.

Observed warming trends on the global scale and in many regions are simulated more realistically in the all-forcing and anthropogenic-only forcing runs than in experiments using natural-only forcing or no external forcing. In the all-forcing and anthropogenic-only forcing runs, the model shows some tendency for too much twentieth-century warming in lower latitudes and too little warming in higher latitudes. Differences in Arctic Oscillation behavior between models and observations contribute substantially to an underprediction of the observed warming over northern Asia. In the all-forcing and natural-only forcing runs, a temporary global cooling in the models during the 1880s not evident in the observed temperature records is volcanically forced. El Niño interactions complicate comparisons of observed and simulated temperature records for the El Chichón and Mt. Pinatubo eruptions during the early 1980s and early 1990s.

The simulations support previous findings that twentieth-century global warming has resulted from a combination of natural and anthropogenic forcing, with anthropogenic forcing being the dominant cause of the pronounced late-twentieth-century warming. The regional results provide evidence for an emergent anthropogenic warming signal over many, if not most, regions of the globe. The warming signal has emerged rather monotonically in the Indian Ocean/western Pacific warm pool during the past half-century. The tropical and subtropical North Atlantic and the tropical eastern Pacific are examples of regions where the anthropogenic warming signal now appears to be emerging from a background of more substantial multidecadal variability.

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