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Xavier J. Levine and Tapio Schneider

Abstract

It is unclear how the width and strength of the Hadley circulation are controlled and how they respond to climate changes. Simulations of global warming scenarios with comprehensive climate models suggest the Hadley circulation may widen and weaken as the climate warms. But these changes are not quantitatively consistent among models, and how they come about is not understood. Here, a wide range of climates is simulated with an idealized moist general circulation model (GCM) coupled to a simple representation of ocean heat transport, in order to place past and possible future changes in the Hadley circulation into a broader context and to investigate the mechanisms responsible for them.

By comparison of simulations with and without ocean heat transport, it is shown that it is essential to take low-latitude ocean heat transport and its coupling to wind stress into account to obtain Hadley circulations in a dynamical regime resembling Earth’s, particularly in climates resembling present-day Earth’s and colder. As the optical thickness of an idealized longwave absorber in the simulations is increased and the climate warms, the Hadley circulation strengthens in colder climates and weakens in warmer climates; it has maximum strength in a climate close to present-day Earth’s. In climates resembling present-day Earth’s and colder, the Hadley circulation strength is largely controlled by the divergence of angular momentum fluxes associated with eddies of midlatitude origin; the latter scale with the mean available potential energy in midlatitudes. The importance of these eddy momentum fluxes for the Hadley circulation strength gradually diminishes as the climate warms. The Hadley circulation generally widens as the climate warms, but at a modest rate that depends sensitively on how it is determined.

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Xavier J. Levine and Tapio Schneider

Abstract

The Hadley circulation has widened over the past 30 years. This widening has been qualitatively reproduced in general circulation model (GCM) simulations of a warming climate. Comprehensive GCM studies suggest this widening may be caused by a poleward shift in baroclinic eddy activity. Yet the limited amplitude of the climate change signals analyzed so far precludes a quantitative comparison with theories.

This study uses two idealized GCMs, one with and one without an active hydrologic cycle, to investigate changes in the extent of the Hadley circulation over a wide range of climates. The climates span global-mean temperatures from 243 to 385 K and equator-to-pole temperature contrasts from 12 to 100 K. Baroclinic eddies control the extent of the Hadley circulation across most of these climates. A supercriticality criterion that quantifies the depth of baroclinic eddies relative to that of the troposphere turns out to be a good indicator of where baroclinic eddies become deep enough to terminate the Hadley circulation. The supercriticality depends on meridional temperature gradients and an effective stability that accounts for the effect of convective heating on baroclinic eddies.

As the equator-to-pole temperature contrast weakens or the convective static stability increases, convective heating increasingly influences the thermal stratification of the troposphere and the supercriticality. Consistent with the supercriticality criterion, the Hadley circulation contracts as meridional temperature gradients increase, and it widens as the effective static stability increases. The former occurs during El Niño and may account for the observed Hadley circulation contraction then; the latter occurs during global warming.

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Xavier J. Levine and William R. Boos

Abstract

Time-mean, zonally asymmetric circulations (hereafter referred to as stationary circulations) maintain intense hydrologic contrasts in Earth’s subtropics in the present climate, especially between monsoon regions and deserts during local summer. Such zonal contrasts in hydrology generally increase in comprehensive GCM simulations of a warming climate, yet a full understanding of stationary circulations and their contribution to the hydrologic cycle in present and future climates is lacking. This study uses an idealized moist GCM to investigate the response of subtropical stationary circulations to global warming. Stationary circulations are forced by a prescribed subtropical surface heat source, and atmospheric infrared opacity is varied to produce a wide range of climates with global-mean surface temperatures between 267 and 319 K. The strength of stationary circulations varies nonmonotonically with global mean temperature in these simulations. Zonal asymmetries in precipitation increase with temperature in climates colder than or comparable to that of Earth but remain steady or weaken in warmer climates. A novel mechanism is proposed in which this behavior is caused by the changes in tropopause height and zonal SST gradients expected to occur with global warming. Casting this mechanism in terms of the first-baroclinic mode of the tropical troposphere produces a theory that quantitatively captures the nonmonotonic dependence of stationary circulation strength on global mean temperature. Zonally asymmetric changes in precipitation minus surface evaporation (PE) are predicted by combining this dynamical theory with the tropospheric moisture changes expected if relative humidity remains constant.

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Robert C. J. Wills, Xavier J. Levine, and Tapio Schneider
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Robert C. Wills, Xavier J. Levine, and Tapio Schneider

Abstract

The weakening of tropical overturning circulations is a robust response to global warming in climate models and observations. However, there remain open questions on the causes of this change and the extent to which this weakening affects individual circulation features such as the Walker circulation. The study presents idealized GCM simulations of a Walker circulation forced by prescribed ocean heat flux convergence in a slab ocean, where the longwave opacity of the atmosphere is varied to simulate a wide range of climates. The weakening of the Walker circulation with warming results from an increase in gross moist stability (GMS), a measure of the tropospheric moist static energy (MSE) stratification, which provides an effective static stability for tropical circulations. Baroclinic mode theory is used to determine changes in GMS in terms of the tropical-mean profiles of temperature and MSE. The GMS increases with warming, owing primarily to the rise in tropopause height, decreasing the sensitivity of the Walker circulation to zonally anomalous net energy input. In the absence of large changes in net energy input, this results in a rapid weakening of the Walker circulation with global warming.

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