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Youtong Zheng
and
Yi Ming

Abstract

Interpreting behaviors of low-level clouds (LLCs) in a climate model is often not straightforward. This is particularly so over polar oceans where frozen and unfrozen surfaces coexist, with horizontal winds streaming across them, shaping LLCs. To add clarity to this interpretation issue, we conduct budget analyses of LLCs using a global atmosphere model with a fully prognostic cloud scheme. After substantiating the model’s skill in reproducing observed LLCs, we use the modeled budgets of cloud fraction and water content to elucidate physics governing changes of LLCs across sea ice edges. Contrasting LLC regimes between open water and sea ice are found. LLCs over sea ice are primarily maintained by large-scale condensation: intermittent intrusions of maritime humid air and surface radiative cooling jointly sustain high relative humidity near the surface, forming extensive but tenuous stratus. This contrasts with the LLCs over open water where the convection and boundary layer condensation sustain the LLCs on top of deeper boundary layers. Such contrasting LLC regimes are influenced by the direction of horizontal advection. During on-ice flow, large-scale condensation dominates the regions, both open water and sea ice regions, forming clouds throughout the lowest several kilometers of the troposphere. During off-ice flow, as cold air masses travel over the open water, the cloud layer lifts and becomes denser, driven by increased surface fluxes that generate LLCs through boundary layer condensation and convective detrainment. These results hold in all seasons except summer when the atmosphere–surface decoupling substantially reduces the footprints of surface type changes.

Open access
Yi Ming
and
V. Ramaswamy

Abstract

This study investigates how anthropogenic aerosols, alone or in conjunction with radiatively active gases, affect the tropical circulation with an atmosphere/mixed layer–ocean general circulation model. Aerosol-induced cooling gives rise to a substantial increase in the overall strength of the tropical circulation, a robust outcome consistent with a thermodynamical scaling argument. Owing to the interhemispheric asymmetry in aerosol forcing, the zonal-mean (Hadley) and zonally asymmetrical components of the tropical circulation respond differently. The Hadley circulation weakens in the Northern Hemisphere but strengthens in the Southern Hemisphere. The resulting northward cross-equatorial moist static energy flux compensates partly for the aerosol radiative cooling in the Northern Hemisphere. In contrast, the less restricted zonally asymmetrical circulation does not show sensitivity to the spatial structure of aerosols and strengthens in both hemispheres. The results also point to the possible role of aerosols in driving the observed reduction in the equatorial sea level pressure gradient.

These circulation changes have profound implications for the hydrological cycle. Aerosols alone make the subtropical dry zones in both hemispheres wetter, as the local hydrological response is controlled thermodynamically by atmospheric moisture content. The deep tropical rainfall undergoes a dynamically induced southward shift, a robust pattern consistent with the adjustments in the zonal-mean circulation and in the meridional moist static energy transport. Less certain is the magnitude of the shift. The nonlinearity exhibited by the combined hydrological response to aerosols and radiatively active gases is dynamical in nature.

Full access
Zhaoyi Shen
and
Yi Ming

Abstract

This study examines how aerosol absorption affects the extratropical circulation by analyzing the response to a globally uniform increase in black carbon (BC) simulated with an atmospheric general circulation model forced by prescribed sea surface temperatures. The model includes aerosol direct and semidirect effects, but not indirect or cloud-absorption effects. BC-induced heating in the free troposphere stabilizes the midlatitude atmospheric column, which results in less energetic baroclinic eddies and thus reduced meridional energy transport at midlatitudes. Upper-tropospheric BC also decreases the meridional temperature gradient on the equatorward flank of the tropospheric jet and yields a weakening and poleward shift of the jet, while boundary layer BC has no significant influence on the large-scale circulation since most of the heating is diffused by turbulence in the boundary layer. The effectiveness of BC in altering circulation generally increases with height. Dry baroclinic eddy theories can explain most of the extratropical response to free-tropospheric BC. Specifically, the decrease in vertical eddy heat flux related to a more stable atmosphere is the main mechanism for reestablishing atmospheric energy balance in the presence of BC-induced heating. Similar temperature responses are found in a dry idealized model, which further confirms the dominant role of baroclinic eddies in driving the extratropical circulation changes. The strong atmospheric-only response to BC suggests that absorbing aerosols are capable of altering synoptic-scale weather patterns. Its height dependence highlights the importance of better constraining model-simulated aerosol vertical distributions with satellite and field measurements.

Full access
Yi Ming
and
V. Ramaswamy

Abstract

The equilibrium temperature and hydrological responses to the total aerosol effects (i.e., direct, semidirect, and indirect effects) are studied using a modified version of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory atmosphere general circulation model (AM2.1) coupled to a mixed layer ocean model. The treatment of aerosol–liquid cloud interactions and associated indirect effects is based upon a prognostic scheme of cloud droplet number concentration, with an explicit representation of cloud condensation nuclei activation involving sulfate, organic carbon, and sea salt aerosols. Increasing aerosols from preindustrial (1860) to present-day (1990) levels leads to a decrease of 1.9 K in the global annual mean surface temperature. The cooling is relatively strong over the Northern Hemisphere midlatitude land owing to the high aerosol burden there, while being amplified at high latitudes. When being subject to aerosols and radiatively active gases (i.e., well-mixed greenhouse gases and ozone) simultaneously, the model climate behaves nonlinearly; the simulated increase in surface temperature (0.55 K) is considerably less than the arithmetic sum of separate aerosol and gas effects (0.86 K). The thermal responses are accompanied by the nonlinear changes in cloud fields, which are amplified owing to the surface albedo feedback at high latitudes. The two effects completely offset each other in the Northern Hemisphere, while gas effect is dominant in the Southern Hemisphere. Both factors are crucial in shaping the regional responses. Interhemispheric asymmetry in aerosol-induced cooling yields a southward shift of the intertropical convergence zone, thus giving rise to a significant reduction in precipitation north of the equator, and an increase to the south. The simulations show that the change of precipitation in response to the simultaneous increases in aerosols and gases not only largely follows the same pattern as that for aerosols alone, but that it is also substantially strengthened in terms of magnitude south of 10°N. This is quite different from the damping expected from adding up individual responses, and further indicates the nonlinearity in the model’s hydrological response.

Full access
Wenhao Dong
and
Yi Ming

Abstract

The ratio of snowfall to total precipitation (S/P ratio) is an important metric that is widely used to detect and monitor hydrologic responses to climate change over mountainous areas. Changes in the S/P ratio over time have proved to be reliable indicators of climatic warming. In this study, the seasonality and interannual variability of monthly S/P ratios over High Mountain Asia (HMA) have been examined during the period 1950–2014 based on a three-member ensemble of simulations using the latest GFDL AM4 model. The results show a significant decreasing trend in S/P ratios during the analysis period, which has mainly resulted from reductions in snowfall, with increases in total precipitation playing a secondary role. Significant regime shifts in S/P ratios are detected around the mid-1990s, with rainfall becoming the dominant form of precipitation over HMA after the changepoints. Attribution analysis demonstrates that increases in rainfall during recent decades were primarily caused by a transformation of snowfall to rainfall as temperature warmed. A logistic equation is used to explore the relationship between the S/P ratio and surface temperature, allowing calculation of a threshold temperature at which the S/P ratio equals 50% (i.e., precipitation is equally likely to take the form of rainfall or snowfall). These temperature thresholds are higher over higher elevations. This study provides an extensive evaluation of simulated S/P ratios over the HMA that helps clarify the seasonality and interannual variability of this metric over the past several decades. The results have important socioeconomic and environmental implications, particularly with respect to water management in Asia under climate change.

Open access
Wenhao Dong
,
Ming Zhao
,
Yi Ming
, and
V. Ramaswamy

Abstract

The characteristics of tropical mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) simulated with a finer-resolution (~50 km) version of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) AM4 model are evaluated by comparing with a comprehensive long-term observational dataset. It is shown that the model can capture the various aspects of MCSs reasonably well. The simulated spatial distribution of MCSs is broadly in agreement with the observations. This is also true for seasonality and interannual variability over different land and oceanic regions. The simulated MCSs are generally longer-lived, weaker, and larger than observed. Despite these biases, an event-scale analysis suggests that their duration, intensity, and size are strongly correlated. Specifically, longer-lived and stronger events tend to be bigger, which is consistent with the observations. The same model is used to investigate the response of tropical MCSs to global warming using time-slice simulations forced by prescribed sea surface temperatures and sea ice. There is an overall decrease in occurrence frequency, and the reduction over land is more prominent than over ocean.

Open access
Spencer A. Hill
,
Yi Ming
, and
Ming Zhao

Abstract

How the globally uniform component of sea surface temperature (SST) warming influences rainfall in the African Sahel remains insufficiently studied, despite mean SST warming being among the most robustly simulated and theoretically grounded features of anthropogenic climate change. A prior study using the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) AM2.1 atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) demonstrated that uniform SST warming strengthens the prevailing northerly advection of dry Saharan air into the Sahel. The present study uses uniform SST warming simulations performed with 7 GFDL and 10 CMIP5 AGCMs to assess the robustness of this drying mechanism across models and uses observations to assess the physical credibility of the severe drying response in AM2.1. In all 17 AGCMs, mean SST warming enhances the free-tropospheric meridional moisture gradient spanning the Sahel and with it the Saharan dry-air advection. Energetically, this is partially balanced by anomalous subsidence, yielding decreased precipitation in 14 of the 17 models. Anomalous subsidence and precipitation are tightly linked across the GFDL models but not the CMIP5 models, precluding the use of this relationship as the start of a causal chain ending in an emergent observational constraint. For AM2.1, cloud–rainfall covariances generate radiative feedbacks on drying through the subsidence mechanism and through surface hydrology that are excessive compared to observations at the interannual time scale. These feedbacks also act in the equilibrium response to uniform warming, calling into question the Sahel’s severe drying response to warming in all coupled models using AM2.1.

Open access
Cameron G. MacDonald
and
Yi Ming

Abstract

The tropical intraseasonal variability in an idealized moist general circulation model (GCM) coupled to a slab ocean is investigated. The model has a simple moist convection scheme and realistic radiative transfer, but no parameterization of cloud processes. In a zonally symmetric aquaplanet state, variability is dominated by westward-propagating Rossby waves. Enforcing zonal asymmetry through the application of a prescribed ocean heat flux in the bottom boundary leads to the development of a slow, eastward propagating mode that bears some of the characteristics of the observed Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO). When the ocean heat flux is made stronger, high-frequency Kelvin waves exist alongside the MJO mode. The strength of the disturbances and the spatial distribution of their precipitation anomalies are sensitive to the strength of intraseasonal sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies. The greatest resemblance to the MJO is observed when shallow slab ocean depths (1 m) are used, but the mode still exists at deeper slabs. Sensitivity experiments to the parameters of the convection scheme suggest that the simulated MJO mode couples to convection in a way that is distinct from both Kelvin and Rossby waves generated by the model. Analysis of the column moist static energy (CMSE) budget of the MJO mode suggests that column radiative heating plays only a weak role in destabilizing the mode relative to the stabilizing contribution of vertical advection. The CMSE budget analysis highlights the importance of the life cycle of horizontal advection for the destabilization and propagation of the MJO. Synergies between the generated MJO mode and linear theories of the MJO are discussed as well.

Free access
Michelle E. Frazer
and
Yi Ming

Abstract

A negative shortwave cloud feedback associated with higher extratropical liquid water content in mixed-phase clouds is a common feature of global warming simulations, and multiple mechanisms have been hypothesized. A set of process-level experiments performed with an idealized global climate model (a dynamical core with passive water and cloud tracers and full Rotstayn–Klein single-moment microphysics) show that the common picture of the liquid water path (LWP) feedback in mixed-phase clouds being controlled by the amount of ice susceptible to phase change is not robust. Dynamic condensate processes—rather than static phase partitioning—directly change with warming, with varied impacts on liquid and ice amounts. Here, three principal mechanisms are responsible for the LWP response, namely higher adiabatic cloud water content, weaker liquid-to-ice conversion through the Bergeron–Findeisen process, and faster melting of ice and snow to rain. Only melting is accompanied by a substantial loss of ice, while the adiabatic cloud water content increase gives rise to a net increase in ice water path (IWP) such that total cloud water also increases without an accompanying decrease in precipitation efficiency. Perturbed parameter experiments with a wide range of climatological LWP and IWP demonstrate a strong dependence of the LWP feedback on the climatological LWP and independence from the climatological IWP and supercooled liquid fraction. This idealized setup allows for a clean isolation of mechanisms and paints a more nuanced picture of the extratropical mixed-phase cloud water feedback than simple phase change.

Open access
Jane E. Smyth
and
Yi Ming

Abstract

The tropical atmospheric circulation and attendant rainfall exhibit seasonally dependent responses to increasing temperatures. Understanding changes in the South American monsoon system is of particular interest given the sensitivity of the southern Amazon rainforest to changes in dry season length. We utilize the latest Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Atmospheric Model (GFDL AM4) to analyze the response of the South American monsoon to uniform sea surface temperature (SST) warming. SST warming is a poorly understood yet impactful component of greenhouse gas–induced climate change. Region-mean rainfall declines by 11%, and net precipitation (precipitation minus evaporation) declines by 40%, during the monsoon onset season (September–November), producing a more severe dry season. The column-integrated moist static energy (MSE) budget helps elucidate the physical mechanisms of the simulated drying. Based on the seasonal analysis, precipitation reductions tend to occur when 1) a convecting region’s climatological MSE export is dominated by horizontal rather than vertical advection, and 2) the horizontal MSE advection increases in the perturbed climate, impeding ascent. On a synoptic scale, the South American low-level jet strengthens and exports more moisture from the monsoon sector, exacerbating spring drying.

Free access