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Noah D. Brenowitz, Tom Beucler, Michael Pritchard, and Christopher S. Bretherton


Neural networks are a promising technique for parameterizing subgrid-scale physics (e.g., moist atmospheric convection) in coarse-resolution climate models, but their lack of interpretability and reliability prevents widespread adoption. For instance, it is not fully understood why neural network parameterizations often cause dramatic instability when coupled to atmospheric fluid dynamics. This paper introduces tools for interpreting their behavior that are customized to the parameterization task. First, we assess the nonlinear sensitivity of a neural network to lower-tropospheric stability and the midtropospheric moisture, two widely studied controls of moist convection. Second, we couple the linearized response functions of these neural networks to simplified gravity wave dynamics, and analytically diagnose the corresponding phase speeds, growth rates, wavelengths, and spatial structures. To demonstrate their versatility, these techniques are tested on two sets of neural networks, one trained with a superparameterized version of the Community Atmosphere Model (SPCAM) and the second with a near-global cloud-resolving model (GCRM). Even though the SPCAM simulation has a warmer climate than the cloud-resolving model, both neural networks predict stronger heating/drying in moist and unstable environments, which is consistent with observations. Moreover, the spectral analysis can predict that instability occurs when GCMs are coupled to networks that support gravity waves that are unstable and have phase speeds larger than 5 m s−1. In contrast, standing unstable modes do not cause catastrophic instability. Using these tools, differences between the SPCAM-trained versus GCRM-trained neural networks are analyzed, and strategies to incrementally improve both of their coupled online performance unveiled.

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Tristan H. Abbott, Timothy W. Cronin, and Tom Beucler


Tropical precipitation extremes are expected to strengthen with warming, but quantitative estimates remain uncertain because of a poor understanding of changes in convective dynamics. This uncertainty is addressed here by analyzing idealized convection-permitting simulations of radiative–convective equilibrium in long-channel geometry. Across a wide range of climates, the thermodynamic contribution to changes in instantaneous precipitation extremes follows near-surface moisture, and the dynamic contribution is positive and small but is sensitive to domain size. The shapes of mass flux profiles associated with precipitation extremes are determined by conditional sampling that favors strong vertical motion at levels where the vertical saturation specific humidity gradient is large, and mass flux profiles collapse to a common shape across climates when plotted in a moisture-based vertical coordinate. The collapse, robust to changes in microphysics and turbulence schemes, implies a thermodynamic contribution that scales with near-surface moisture despite substantial convergence aloft and allows the dynamic contribution to be defined by the pressure velocity at a single level. Linking the simplified dynamic mode to vertical velocities from entraining plume models reveals that the small dynamic mode in channel simulations (2% K−1) is caused by opposing height dependences of vertical velocity and density, together with the buffering influence of cloud-base buoyancies that vary little with surface temperature. These results reinforce an emerging picture of the response of extreme tropical precipitation rates to warming: a thermodynamic mode of about 7% K−1 dominates, with a minor contribution from changes in dynamics.

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