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Wenju Cai and Tim Cowan

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Simulations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) models on the Southern Hemisphere (SH) circulation are assessed over the period 1950–99, focusing on the seasonality of the trend and the level of its congruency with the southern annular mode (SAM) in terms of surface zonal wind stress. It is found that, as a group, the models realistically produce the seasonality of the trend, which is strongest in the SH summer season, December–February (DJF). The modeled DJF trend is principally congruent with the modeled SAM trend, as in observations. The majority of models produce a statistically significant positive trend, with decreasing westerlies in the midlatitudes and increasing westerlies in the high latitudes. The trend pattern from an all-experiment mean achieves highest correlation with that from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) data. A total of 48 out of the 71 experiments were run with ozone-depletion forcing, which offers an opportunity to assess the importance of ozone depletion in driving the late-twentieth-century trends. The AR4 model ensemble that contains an ozone-depletion forcing produces an averaged trend that is comparable to the trend from the NCEP outputs corrected by station-based observations. The trend is largely generated after the mid-1970s. Without ozone depletion the trend is less than half of that in the corrected NCEP, although the errors in the observed trend are large. The impact on oceanic circulation is inferred from wind stress curl in the group with ozone-depletion forcing. The result shows an intensification of the southern midlatitude supergyre circulation, including a strengthening East Australian Current flowing through the Tasman Sea. Thus, ozone depletion also plays an important role in the subtropical gyre circulation change over the past decades.

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Wenju Cai and Tim Cowan

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Since the 1950s annual rainfall over southeastern Australia (SEA) has decreased considerably with a maximum decline in the austral autumn season (March–May), particularly from 1980 onward. The understanding of SEA autumn rainfall variability, the causes, and associated mechanisms for the autumn reduction remain elusive. As such, a new plausible mechanism for SEA autumn rainfall variability is described, and the dynamics for the reduction are hypothesized. First, there is no recent coherence between SEA autumn rainfall and the southern annular mode, discounting it as a possible driver of the autumn rainfall reduction. Second, weak trends in the subtropical ridge intensity cannot explain the recent autumn rainfall reduction across SEA, even though a significant relationship exists between the ridge and rainfall in April and May. With a collapse in the relationship between the autumn subtropical ridge intensity and position in recent decades, a strengthening in the influence of the postmonsoonal winds from north of Australia has emerged, as evident by a strong post-1980 coherence with SEA mean sea level pressure and rainfall. From mid to late autumn, there has been a replacement of a relative wet climate in SEA with a drier climate from northern latitudes, representing a climate shift that has contributed to the rainfall reduction. The maximum baroclinicity, as indicated by Eady growth rates, has shifted poleward. An associated poleward shift of the dominant process controlling SEA autumn rainfall has further enhanced the reduction, particularly across southern SEA. This observed change over the past few decades is consistent with a poleward shift of the ocean and atmosphere circulation.

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Wenju Cai, Arnold Sullivan, and Tim Cowan

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The present study assesses the ability of climate models to simulate rainfall teleconnections with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD). An assessment is provided on 24 climate models that constitute phase 3 of the World Climate Research Programme’s Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (WCRP CMIP3), used in the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The strength of the ENSO–rainfall teleconnection, defined as the correlation between rainfall and Niño-3.4, is overwhelmingly controlled by the amplitude of ENSO signals relative to stochastic noise, highlighting the importance of realistically simulating this parameter. Because ENSO influences arise from the movement of convergence zones from their mean positions, the well-known equatorial Pacific climatological sea surface temperature (SST) and ENSO cold tongue anomaly biases lead to systematic errors. The climatological SSTs, which are far too cold along the Pacific equator, lead to a complete “nonresponse to ENSO” along the central and/or eastern equatorial Pacific in the majority of models. ENSO anomalies are also too equatorially confined and extend too far west, with linkages to a weakness in the teleconnection with Hawaii boreal winter rainfall and an inducement of a teleconnection with rainfall over west Papua New Guinea in austral summer. Another consequence of the ENSO cold tongue bias is that the majority of models produce too strong a coherence between SST anomalies in the west, central, and eastern equatorial Pacific. Consequently, the models’ ability in terms of producing differences in the impacts by ENSO from those by ENSO Modoki is reduced.

Similarly, the IOD–rainfall teleconnection strengthens with an intensification of the IOD relative to the stochastic noise. A significant relationship exists between intermodel variations of IOD–ENSO coherence and intermodel variations of the ENSO amplitude in a small subset of models in which the ENSO anomaly structure and ENSO signal transmission to the Indian Ocean are better simulated. However, using all but one model (defined as an outlier) there is no systematic linkage between ENSO amplitude and IOD–ENSO coherence. Indeed, the majority of models produce an ENSO–IOD coherence lower than the observed, supporting the notion that the Indian Ocean has the ability to generate independent variability and that ENSO is not the only trigger of the IOD. Although models with a stronger IOD amplitude and rainfall teleconnection tend to have a greater ENSO amplitude, there is no causal relationship; instead this feature reflects a commensurate strength of the Bjerknes feedback in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

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Wenju Cai, Peter van Rensch, and Tim Cowan

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In recent decades, southeast Australia (SEA) has experienced a severe rainfall decline, with a maximum reduction in the austral autumn season. The cause(s) of this decline remain unclear. This study examines the interaction between remote large-scale climate modes and an atmospheric phenomenon known as the subtropical ridge (STR) at the local scale. A focus is placed on the utility of using the STR as a bridge for understanding how these remote climate drivers influence SEA rainfall through a response in local atmospheric conditions. Using observational data since 1979, it is found that a strong seasonality exists in the impact of the STR on SEA rainfall. In austral autumn, because SEA rainfall is poorly correlated with the STR intensity (STRI) and STR position (STRP) on an interannual basis, it follows that most of the autumn rainfall reduction cannot be explained by the STRI changes in this season. There is also no clear relationship between the autumn STR and known remote modes of variability. Reductions in SEA rainfall have occurred in the austral winter and spring seasons; however, neither is significant. During winter, although El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has little impact on the STR, there is a significant influence from the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) and the southern annular mode (SAM). The IOD impact is conducted through equivalent-barotropic Rossby wave trains stemming from the eastern Indian Ocean in response to the IOD-induced anomalous convection and divergence. These wave trains modify the intensity and position of the ridge over SEA. The impact from the SAM is similarly projected onto the STRI and STRP. The STR trend accounts for the entire observed decline in SEA winter rainfall, 80% of which is contributed by the upward trend of the IOD; the SAM exhibits virtually no trend over the 30-yr period in this season. In spring, SEA rainfall shows strong interannual variability and is well correlated with the STRI; the ridge itself is influenced by the IOD and ENSO but not by the SAM. The Indian Ocean is a major pathway for ENSO’s impact on SEA rainfall in this season, which is conducted by two wave trains emanating from the east and west poles of the IOD. These wave train patterns share an anomalously high surface pressure center south of Australia, which does not align with the STR over SEA. As such, only a small portion of the STRI variance is accounted for by fluctuations in ENSO and the IOD. Long-term changes in the STRI account for about 90% of the observed decline in SEA spring rainfall, all of which are due to a recent increased frequency in the number of positive IOD events (upward IOD trend); ENSO shows no long-term trend over the 30-yr period. In summary, variability and change in winter and spring rainfall across SEA can be understood through the impact of remote climate modes, such as ENSO, the IOD, and the SAM, on the STR. This approach, however, offers no utility for understanding what drives the long-term SEA autumn rainfall decline, the dynamics of which remain elusive.

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Wenju Cai, Arnold Sullivan, and Tim Cowan

Abstract

Simulations of individual global climate drivers using models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3(CMIP3) have been examined; however, the relationship among them has not been assessed. This is carried out to address several important issues, including the likelihood of the southern annular mode (SAM) forcing Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) events and the possible impact of the IOD on El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. Several conclusions emerge from statistics based on multimodel outputs. First, ENSO signals project strongly onto the SAM, although ENSO-forced signals tend to peak before ENSO. This feature is similar to the situation associated with the IOD. The IOD-induced signal over southern Australia, through stationary equivalent Rossby barotropic wave trains, peak before the IOD itself. Second, there is no control by the SAM on the IOD, in contrast to what has been suggested previously. Indeed, no model produces a SAM–IOD relationship that supports a positive (negative) SAM driving a positive (negative) IOD event. This is the case even in models that do not simulate a statistically significant relationship between ENSO and the IOD. Third, the IOD does have an impact on ENSO. The relationship between ENSO and the IOD in the majority of models is far weaker than the observed. However, the ENSO’s influence on the IOD is boosted by a spurious oceanic teleconnection, whereby ENSO discharge–recharge signals transmit to the Sumatra–Java coast, generating thermocline anomalies and changing IOD properties. Without the spurious oceanic teleconnection, the influence of the IOD on ENSO is comparable to the impact of ENSO on the IOD. Other model deficiencies are discussed.

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Wenju Cai, Tim Cowan, Arnold Sullivan, Joachim Ribbe, and Ge Shi

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Severe rainfall deficiencies have plagued southern and eastern Australian regions over the past decades, where the long-term rainfall is projected to decrease. By contrast, there has been an increase over northwest Australia (NWA) in austral summer, which, if it continues, could be an important future water resource. If increasing anthropogenic aerosols contribute to the observed increase in summer rainfall, then, as anthropogenic aerosols are projected to decrease, what will the likely impact over NWA be? This study uses output from 24 climate models submitted to phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3) with a total of 75 experiments to provide a multimodel perspective. The authors find that none of the ensemble averages, either with both the direct and indirect anthropogenic aerosol effect (10 models, 32 experiments) or with the direct effect only (14 models, 43 experiments), simulate the observed NWA rainfall increase. Given this, it follows that a projected rainfall reduction is not due to a projected decline in future aerosol concentrations. The authors show that the projected NWA rainfall reduction is associated with an unrealistic and overly strong NWA rainfall teleconnection with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The unrealistic teleconnection is primarily caused by a model equatorial Pacific cold tongue that extends too far into the western Pacific, with the ascending branch of the Walker circulation situated too far west, exerting an influence on rainfall over NWA rather than over northeast Australia. Models with a greater present-day ENSO amplitude produce a greater reduction in the Walker circulation and hence a greater reduction in NWA rainfall in a warming climate. Hence, the cold bias and its impact represent a source of uncertainty for climate projections.

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Tim Cowan, Peter van Rensch, Ariaan Purich, and Wenju Cai

Abstract

Relationships of the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD), El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and the southern annular mode (SAM) with atmospheric blocking are investigated using a linear framework over the austral autumn–spring (cool) seasons for southeast Australia (SEA). Positive blocking events occurring at 130°–140°E increase the likelihood of cutoff low pressure systems developing that generate significant rainfall totals across SEA. In mid to late austral autumn (April–May), blocking is coherent with negative IOD events. During this season, a negative IOD event and blocking are associated with warm sea surface temperature anomalies in the eastern tropical Indian Ocean and a blocking high pressure cell south of Australia. An anomalous cyclonic pressure center over southern Australia directs tropical moisture flux anomalies to the region. Despite this, only a small portion of a negative IOD's impact on SEA rainfall comes through blocking events. During austral winter, ENSO is coherent with blocking; anomalous tropical moisture fluxes from the western Pacific during a La Niña merge with anomalous cyclonic flows centered over SEA, delivering enhanced rainfall via cutoff lows. The low pressure cell constitutes a center of the Southern Oscillation associated with ENSO. This ENSO-blocking coherence is considerably weaker in austral spring, whereby circulation anomalies associated with blocking resemble a SAM-like pattern. As such, a large portion of the SAM's impact on SEA spring rainfall occurs in conjunction with blocking events. The relative importance of associations between the dominant climate modes and blocking in generating the drought-breaking cool season precipitation in 2010 across SEA is discussed.

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Tim Cowan, Wenju Cai, Benjamin Ng, and Matthew England

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The tropical Indian Ocean has experienced a faster warming rate in the west than in the east over the twentieth century. The warming pattern resembles a positive Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) that is well captured by climate models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5), forced with the two main anthropogenic forcings, long-lived greenhouse gases (GHGs), and aerosols. However, much less is known about how GHGs and aerosols influence the IOD asymmetry, including the negative sea surface temperature (SST) skewness in the east IOD pole (IODE). Here, it is shown that the IODE SST negative skewness is more enhanced by aerosols than by GHGs using single-factor forcing experiments from 10 CMIP5 models. Aerosols induce a greater mean zonal thermocline gradient along the tropical Indian Ocean than that forced by GHGs, whereby the thermocline is deeper in the east relative to the west. This generates strong asymmetry in the SST response to thermocline anomalies between warm and cool IODE phases in the aerosol-only experiments, enhancing the negative IODE SST skewness. Other feedback processes involving zonal wind, precipitation, and evaporation cannot solely explain the enhanced SST skewness by aerosols. An interexperiment comparison in one model with strong skewness confirms that the mean zonal thermocline gradient across the Indian Ocean determines the magnitude of the SST–thermocline asymmetry, which in turn controls the SST skewness strength. The findings suggest that as aerosol emissions decline and GHGs increase, this will likely contribute to a future weakening of the IODE SST skewness.

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Benjamin Ng, Wenju Cai, Tim Cowan, and Daohua Bi

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El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the dominant mode of interannual climate fluctuations with wide-ranging socioeconomic and environmental impacts. Understanding the eastern Pacific (EP) and central Pacific (CP) El Niño response to a warmer climate is paramount, yet the role of internal climate variability in modulating their response is not clear. Using large ensembles, we find that internal variability generates a spread in the standard deviation and skewness of these two El Niño types that is similar to the spread of 17 models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) that realistically simulate ENSO diversity. Based on 40 Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble (CESM-LE) and 99 Max Planck Institute for Meteorology Grand Ensemble (MPI-GE) members, unforced variability can explain more than 90% of the historical EP and CP El Niño standard deviation and all of the ENSO skewness spread in the 17 CMIP5 models. Both CESM-LE and the selected CMIP5 models show increased EP and CP El Niño variability in a warmer climate, driven by a stronger mean vertical temperature gradient in the upper ocean and faster surface warming of the eastern equatorial Pacific. However, MPI-GE shows no agreement in EP or CP standard deviation change. This is due to weaker sensitivity to the warming signal, such that when the eastern equatorial Pacific surface warming is faster, the change in upper ocean vertical temperature gradient tends to be weaker. This highlights that individual models produce a different ENSO response in a warmer climate, and that considerable uncertainty within the CMIP5 ensemble may be caused by internal climate variability.

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Wenju Cai, Peter van Rensch, Tim Cowan, and Arnold Sullivan

Abstract

An asymmetry, and its multidecadal variability, in a rainfall teleconnection with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) are described. Further, the breakdown of this relationship since 1980 is offered as a cause for a rainfall reduction in an ENSO-affected region, southeast Queensland (SEQ). There, austral summer rainfall has been declining since around the 1980s, but the associated process is not understood.

It is demonstrated that the rainfall reduction is not simulated by the majority of current climate models forced with anthropogenic forcing factors. Examination shows that ENSO is a rainfall-generating mechanism for the region because of an asymmetry in its impact: the La Niña–rainfall relationship is statistically significant, as SEQ summer rainfall increases with La Niña amplitude; by contrast, the El Niño–induced rainfall reductions do not have a statistically significant relationship with El Niño amplitude. Since 1980, this asymmetry no longer operates, and La Niña events no longer induce a rainfall increase, leading to the observed SEQ rainfall reduction. A similar asymmetric rainfall teleconnection with ENSO Modoki exists and shares the same temporal evolutions.

This breakdown is caused by an eastward shift in the Walker circulation and the convection center near Australia’s east coast, in association with a post-1980 positive phase of the interdecadal Pacific oscillation (IPO). Such a breakdown occurred before 1950, indicating that multidecadal variability alone could potentially be responsible for the recent SEQ rainfall decline. An aggregation of outputs from climate models to distill the impact of climate change suggests that the asymmetry and the breakdown may not be generated by climate change, although most models do not perform well in simulating the ENSO–rainfall teleconnection over the SEQ region.

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