Search Results

You are looking at 1 - 10 of 30 items for

  • Author or Editor: Thomas Birner x
  • Refine by Access: All Content x
Clear All Modify Search
Thomas Birner

Abstract

The effect of large-scale dynamics as represented by the residual mean meridional circulation in the transformed Eulerian sense, in particular its stratospheric part, on lower stratospheric static stability and tropopause structure is studied using a comprehensive chemistry–climate model (CCM), reanalysis data, and simple idealized modeling. Dynamical forcing of static stability as associated with the vertical structure of the residual circulation results in a dominant dipole forcing structure with negative static stability forcing just below the tropopause and positive static stability forcing just above the tropopause. This dipole forcing structure effectively sharpens the tropopause, especially during winter. Furthermore, the strong positive lowermost stratospheric static stability forcing causes a layer of strongly enhanced static stability just above the extratropical tropopause—a tropopause inversion layer (TIL)—especially in the winter midlatitudes. The strong positive static stability forcing is shown to be mainly due to the strong vertical gradient of the vertical residual velocity found just above the tropopause in the winter midlatitudes.

Stratospheric radiative equilibrium (SRE) solutions are obtained using offline radiative transfer calculations for a given tropospheric climate as simulated by the CCM. The resulting tropopause height in SRE is reduced by several kilometers in the tropics but is increased by 1–2 km in the extratropics, strongly reducing the equator-to-pole contrast in tropopause height. Moreover, the TIL in winter midlatitudes disappears in the SRE solution in contrast to the polar summer TIL, which stays intact. When the SRE solution is modified to include the effect of stratospheric dynamics as represented by the stratospheric residual circulation, the TIL in winter midlatitudes is recovered, suggesting that the static stability forcing associated with the stratospheric residual circulation represents the main cause for the TIL in the winter midlatitudes whereas radiation seems dominant in causing the polar summer TIL.

Full access
Nicholas Davis
and
Thomas Birner

Abstract

The arid subtropics are situated at the edges of the tropical belt, where subsidence in the Hadley cells suppresses precipitation. Any meridional shift in these edge latitudes could have significant impacts on surface climate. Recent studies have investigated past and future changes in the tropical belt width and have found discrepancies in the rates of expansion estimated with different metrics and between climate models and reanalyses. Here, CMIP5 simulations and four modern reanalyses are analyzed using an ensemble of objective tropical belt width metrics to reexamine if such inconsistencies exist. The authors do not find sufficient evidence to demonstrate this discrepancy between models and reanalyses, as reanalysis trends in the tropical belt width fall within the range of model trends for any given metric. Furthermore, only metrics based on the Hadley cells are found to exhibit robust historical and future expansion. Metrics based on the subtropical jet and the tropopause show no robust response. This differentiation may be due to the strong correlation, on all time scales, between the Hadley cell edge latitudes and the latitudes of the eddy-driven jets, which consistently shift poleward in response to radiative forcings. In contrast, the subtropical jet and tropopause metrics appear to be decoupled from the Hadley cells and the eddy-driven jets and essentially measure a different tropical belt. The tropical belt width metrics are inconsistently correlated with surface climate indices based on precipitation and surface evaporation. This may make assessing the surface impacts of observed and future tropical expansion challenging.

Full access
Nicholas Davis
and
Thomas Birner

Abstract

Earth’s arid subtropics are situated at the edges of the tropical belt, which encircles the planet along the equator and covers half of its surface area. The climate of the tropical belt is strongly influenced by the Hadley cells, with their subsidence and easterly trade winds both sustaining the aridity at the belt’s edges. The understanding of Earth’s past, present, and future climates is contingent on understanding the dynamics influencing this region. An important but unanswered question is how realistically climate models reproduce the mean state of the tropical belt. This study augments the existing literature by examining the mean width and seasonality of the tropical belt in climate models from phase 5 of CMIP (CMIP5) and experiments from the second phase of the Chemistry–Climate Model Validation (CCMVal-2) activity of the Stratospheric Processes and Their Role in Climate (SPARC) project. While the models overall reproduce the structure of the tropical belt width’s seasonal cycle, they underestimate its amplitude and cannot consistently reproduce the seasonal cycle lag between the Northern Hemisphere Hadley cell edge and subtropical jet latitudes found in observations. Additionally, up to 50% of the intermodel variation in mean tropical belt width can be attributed to model horizontal resolution, with finer resolution leading to a narrower tropical belt. Finer resolution is associated with an equatorward shift and intensification of subtropical eddy momentum flux convergence, which via the Coriolis torque explains essentially all of the grid-size bias and a large fraction of the total intermodel variation in Hadley cell width.

Full access
Thomas Birner
and
Paul D. Williams

Abstract

Sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) are usually considered to be initiated by planetary wave activity. Here it is asked whether small-scale variability (e.g., related to gravity waves) can lead to SSWs given a certain amount of planetary wave activity that is by itself not sufficient to cause a SSW. A highly vertically truncated version of the Holton–Mass model of stratospheric wave–mean flow interaction, recently proposed by Ruzmaikin et al., is extended to include stochastic forcing. In the deterministic setting, this low-order model exhibits multiple stable equilibria corresponding to the undisturbed vortex and SSW state, respectively. Momentum forcing due to quasi-random gravity wave activity is introduced as an additive noise term in the zonal momentum equation. Two distinct approaches are pursued to study the stochastic system. First, the system, initialized at the undisturbed state, is numerically integrated many times to derive statistics of first passage times of the system undergoing a transition to the SSW state. Second, the Fokker–Planck equation corresponding to the stochastic system is solved numerically to derive the stationary probability density function of the system. Both approaches show that even small to moderate strengths of the stochastic gravity wave forcing can be sufficient to cause a SSW for cases for which the deterministic system would not have predicted a SSW.

Full access
John R. Albers
and
Thomas Birner

Abstract

Reanalysis data are used to evaluate the evolution of polar vortex geometry, planetary wave drag, and gravity wave drag prior to split versus displacement sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs). A composite analysis that extends upward to the lower mesosphere reveals that split SSWs are characterized by a transition from a wide, funnel-shaped vortex that is anomalously strong to a vortex that is constrained about the pole and has little vertical tilt. In contrast, displacement SSWs are characterized by a wide, funnel-shaped vortex that is anomalously weak throughout the prewarming period. Moreover, during split SSWs, gravity wave drag is enhanced in the polar night jet, while planetary wave drag is enhanced within the extratropical surf zone. During displacement SSWs, gravity wave drag is anomalously weak throughout the extratropical stratosphere.

Using the composite analysis as a guide, a case study of the 2009 SSW is conducted in order to evaluate the roles of planetary and gravity waves for preconditioning the polar vortex in terms of two SSW-triggering scenarios: anomalous planetary wave forcing from the troposphere and resonance due to either internal or external Rossby waves. The results support the view that split SSWs are caused by resonance rather than anomalously large wave forcing. Given these findings, it is suggested that vortex preconditioning, which is traditionally defined in terms of vortex geometries that increase poleward wave focusing, may be better described by wave events (planetary and/or gravity) that “tune” the geometry of the vortex toward its resonant excitation points.

Full access
Jeremiah P. Sjoberg
and
Thomas Birner

Abstract

A classic result of studying stratospheric wave–mean flow interactions presented by Holton and Mass is that, for constant incoming wave forcing (at a notional tropopause), a vacillating stratospheric response may ensue. Simple models, such as the Holton–Mass model, typically prescribe the incoming wave forcing in terms of geopotential perturbation, which is not a proxy for upward wave activity flux. Here, the authors reformulate the Holton–Mass model such that incoming upward wave activity flux is prescribed. The Holton–Mass model contains a positive wave–mean flow feedback whereby wave forcing decelerates the mean flow, allowing enhanced wave propagation, which then further decelerates the mean flow, etc., until the mean flow no longer supports wave propagation. By specifying incoming wave activity flux, this feedback is constrained to the model interior. Bistability—where the zonal wind may exist at one of two distinct steady states for a given incoming wave forcing—is maintained in this reformulated model. The model is perturbed with transient pulses of upward wave activity flux to produce transitions between the two stable states. A minimum of integrated incoming wave activity flux necessary to force these sudden stratospheric warming–like transitions exists for pulses with time scales on the order of 10 days, arising from a wave time scale internal to the model at which forcing produces the strongest mean-flow response. The authors examine how the tropopause affects the internal feedback for this model setup and find that the tropopause inversion layer may potentially provide an important source of wave activity in the lower stratosphere.

Full access
David W. J. Thompson
and
Thomas Birner

Abstract

Previous studies have demonstrated the key role of baroclinicity and thus the isentropic slope in determining the climatological-mean distribution of the tropospheric eddy fluxes of heat. Here the authors examine the role of variability in the isentropic slope in driving variations in the tropospheric eddy fluxes of heat about their long-term mean during Northern Hemisphere winter.

On month-to-month time scales, the lower-tropospheric isentropic slope and eddy fluxes of heat are not significantly correlated when all eddies are included in the analysis. But the isentropic slope and heat fluxes are closely linked when the data are filtered to isolate the fluxes due to synoptic (<10 days) and low-frequency (>10 days) time scale waves. Anomalously steep isentropic slopes are characterized by anomalously poleward heat fluxes by synoptic eddies but anomalously equatorward heat fluxes by low-frequency eddies. Lag regressions based on daily data reveal that 1) variations in the isentropic slope precede by several days variations in the heat fluxes by synoptic eddies and 2) variations in the heat fluxes due to both synoptic and low-frequency eddies precede by several days similarly signed variations in the momentum flux at the tropopause level.

The results suggest that seemingly modest changes in the tropospheric isentropic slope drive significant changes in the synoptic eddy heat fluxes and thus in the generation of baroclinic wave activity in the lower troposphere. The linkages have implications for understanding the extratropical tropospheric eddy response to a range of processes, including anthropogenic climate change, stratospheric variability, and extratropical sea surface temperature anomalies.

Full access
Jeremiah P. Sjoberg
and
Thomas Birner

Abstract

The amplitude of upward-propagating tropospherically forced planetary waves is known to be of first-order importance in producing sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs). This forcing amplitude is observed to undergo strong temporal fluctuations. Characteristics of the resulting transient forcing leading to SSWs are studied in reanalysis data and in highly truncated simple models of stratospheric wave–mean flow interaction. It is found in both the reanalysis data and the simple models that SSWs are preferentially generated by transient forcing of sufficiently long time scales (on the order of 1 week or longer). The time scale of the transient forcing is found to play a stronger role in producing SSWs than the strength of the forcing. In the simple models it is possible to fix the amplitude of the tropospheric forcing but to vary the time scale of the forcing. The resulting frequency of occurrence of SSWs shows dramatic reductions for decreasing forcing time scales.

Full access
Roland Walz
,
Hella Garny
, and
Thomas Birner

Abstract

The stratospheric polar vortex is dynamically coupled to the tropospheric circulation. Therefore, a better mechanistic understanding of this coupled system is important to interpret past and future circulation changes correctly. Previously, idealized simulations with a dry dynamical-core general circulation model and imposed tropical upper-tropospheric warming (TUTW) have shown that a critical warming level exists at which the polar vortex transitions from a weak and variable to a strong and stable regime. Here, we investigate the dynamical mechanism responsible for this regime transition and its influence on the troposphere by performing similar idealized experiments with (REF) and without a polar vortex (NPV). According to the critical-layer control mechanism, the strengthened upper flank of the subtropical jet in response to TUTW leads to an accelerated wave-driven residual circulation in both experiments. For the REF experiment, the stronger residual circulation is associated with changes in the lower-stratospheric thermal structure that are consistent with an equatorward shift of the polar vortex. At a certain threshold of TUTW in the REF experiment, the tropospheric jet and the stratospheric polar vortex form a confined waveguide for planetary-scale waves that presumably favors downward wave coupling events. Consistently, the polar vortex strengthens in combination with an enhanced poleward shift of the tropospheric jet compared to the NPV experiment. Overall, these idealized experiments suggest that a polar vortex strengthening can be caused by greenhouse gas–induced warmings via modifications of the waveguide. This mechanism might also be relevant to understand the polar vortex changes in more complex models.

Open access
Nicholas A. Davis
and
Thomas Birner

Abstract

The poleward expansion of the Hadley cells is one of the most robust modeled responses to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. There are many proposed mechanisms for expansion, and most are consistent with modeled changes in thermodynamics, dynamics, and clouds. The adjustment of the eddies and the mean flow to greenhouse gas forcings, and to one another, complicates any effort toward a deeper understanding. Here we modify the Gray Radiation and Moist Aquaplanet (GRANDMA) model to uncouple the eddy and mean flow responses to forcings. When eddy forcings are held constant, the purely axisymmetric response of the Hadley cell to a greenhouse gas–like forcing is an intensification and poleward tilting of the cell with height in response to an axisymmetric increase in angular momentum in the subtropics. The angular momentum increase drastically alters the circulation response compared to axisymmetric theories, which by nature neglect this adjustment. Model simulations and an eddy diffusivity framework demonstrate that the axisymmetric increase in subtropical angular momentum—the direct manifestation of the radiative–convective equilibrium temperature response—drives a poleward shift of the eddy stresses which leads to Hadley cell expansion. Prescribing the eddy response to the greenhouse gas–like forcing shows that eddies damp, rather than drive, changes in angular momentum, moist static energy transport, and momentum transport. Expansion is not driven by changes in baroclinic instability, as would otherwise be diagnosed from the fully coupled simulation. These modeling results caution any assessment of mechanisms for circulation change within the fully coupled wave–mean flow system.

Full access