Response of the large-scale structure of the atmosphere to global warming
Vallis, Geoffrey K.; Zurita-Gotor, Pablo; Cairns, Cameron; et al.Kidston, Joseph
Date: 4 November 2014
Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
This article discusses the possible response of the large-scale atmospheric structure to a warmer climate. Using integrations from the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) in conjunction with physical arguments, we try to identify what changes are likely to be robust and what the underlying mechanisms might ...
This article discusses the possible response of the large-scale atmospheric structure to a warmer climate. Using integrations from the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) in conjunction with physical arguments, we try to identify what changes are likely to be robust and what the underlying mechanisms might be. We focus on the large-scale zonally averaged circulation, in particular on height of the tropopause, the strength and position of the surface westerlies and the strength and extent of the Hadley Cell. We present analytic arguments and numerical calculations which suggest that under global warming the height of the tropopause will increase in both the transient response and final equilibrium state, and an increase is clearly found in all the comprehensive models in CMIP5. Upper stratospheric cooling is also found in the comprehensive models, and this too can be explained by a radiative argument. Regarding the circulation, most models show a slight expansion and weakening of the Hadley Cell, depending on season and hemisphere. The expansion is small and largely confined to winter but with some expansion in Southern Hemisphere summer. The weakening occurs principally in the Northern Hemisphere but the intermodel scatter is large. There is also a general polewards shift in surface westerlies, but the changes are small and again are little larger than the intermodel variability in the change. This shift is positively correlated with the Hadley Cell expansion to a degree that depends somewhat on the metric chosen for the latter. There is a robust strengthening in the Southern Hemisphere surface winds across seasons. In the Northern Hemisphere there is a slight strengthening in the westerlies in most models in winter but a consistent weakening of the westerlies in summer. We present various physical arguments concerning these circulation changes but none that are both demonstrably correct and that account for the model results. We conclude that the above-mentioned large-scale thermodynamic/radiative changes in the large-scale atmospheric structure are generally robust, in the sense of being both well understood and consistently reproduced by comprehensive models. In that sense the dynamical changes are less robust given the current state of knowledge and simulation, although one cannot conclude that they are, in principle, unknowable or less predictable.
College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences
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