In this study, we examine marine low cloud cover variability in the Southeast Pacific and its association with lower-tropospheric stability (LTS) across a spectrum of timescales. On both daily and interannual timescales, LTS and low cloud amount are very well correlated in austral summer (DJF). Meanwhile in winter (JJA), when ambient LTS increases, the LTS–low cloud relationship substantially weakens. The DJF LTS–low cloud relationship also weakens in years with unusually large ambient LTS values. These are generally strong El Niño years, in which DJF LTS values are comparable to those typically found in JJA. Thus the LTS–low cloud relationship is strongly modulated by the seasonal cycle and the ENSO phenomenon. We also investigate the origin of LTS anomalies closely associated with low cloud variability during austral summer. We find that the ocean and atmosphere are independently involved in generating anomalies in LTS and hence variability in the Southeast Pacific low cloud deck. This highlights the importance of the physical (as opposed to chemical) component of the climate system in generating internal variability in low cloud cover. It also illustrates the coupled nature of the climate system in this region, and raises the possibility of cloud feedbacks related to LTS. We conclude by addressing the implications of the LTS–low cloud relationship in the Southeast Pacific for low cloud feedbacks in anthropogenic climate change.
The frequency and character of Southern California’s Santa Ana wind events are investigated within a 12-km-resolution downscaling of late-20th and mid-21st century time periods of the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate System Model global climate change scenario run. The number of Santa Ana days per winter season is approximately 20% fewer in the mid 21st century compared to the late 20th century. Since the only systematic and sustained difference between these two periods is the level of anthropogenic forcing, this effect is anthropogenic in origin. In both time periods, Santa Ana winds are partly katabatically-driven by a temperature difference between the cold wintertime air pooling in the desert against coastal mountains and the adjacent warm air over the ocean. However, this katabatic mechanism is significantly weaker during the mid 21st century time period. This occurs because of the well-documented differential warming associated with transient climate change, with more warming in the desert interior than over the ocean. Thus the mechanism responsible for the decrease in Santa Ana frequency originates from a well-known aspect of the climate response to increasing greenhouse gases, but cannot be understood or simulated without mesoscale atmospheric dynamics. In addition to the change in Santa Ana frequency, we investigate changes during Santa Anas in two other meteorological variables known to be relevant to fire weather conditions—relative humidity and temperature. We find a decrease in the relative humidity and an increase in temperature. Both these changes would favor fire. A fire behavior model accounting for changes in wind, temperature, and relative humidity simultaneously is necessary to draw firm conclusions about future fire risk and growth associated with Santa Ana events. While our results are somewhat limited by a relatively small sample size, they illustrate an observed and explainable regional change in climate due to plausible mesoscale processes.
This study used numerical experiments to investigate two important concerns in simulating the cold season snowpack: the impact of the alterations of snow albedo due to anthropogenic aerosol deposition on snowpack and the treatment of snow physics using a multi-layer snow model. The snow albedo component considered qualitatively future changes in anthropogenic emissions and the subsequent increase or decrease of black carbon deposition on the Sierra Nevada snowpack by altering the prescribed snow albedo values. The alterations in the snow albedo primarily affect the snowpack via surface energy budget with little impact on precipitation. It was found that a decrease in snow albedo (by as little as 5–10% of the reference values) due to an increase in local emissions enhances snowmelt and runoff (by as much as 30–50%) in the early part of a cold season, resulting in reduced snowmelt-driven runoff (by as much as 30–50%) in the later part of the cold season, with the greatest impacts at higher elevations. An increase in snow albedo associated with reduced anthropogenic emissions results in the opposite effects. Thus, the most notable impact of the decrease in snow albedo is to enhance early-season snowmelt and to reduce late-season snowmelt, resulting in an adverse impact on warm season water resources in California. The timing of the sensitivity of snow water equivalent (SWE), snowmelt, and runoff vary systematically according to terrain elevation; as terrain elevation increases, the peak response of these fields occurs later in the cold season. The response of SWE and surface energy budget to the alterations in snow albedo found in this study shows that the effects of snow albedo on snowpack are further enhanced via local snow-albedo feedback. Results from this experiment suggest that a reduction in local emissions, which would increase snow albedo, could alleviate the early snowmelt and reduced runoff in late winter and early spring caused by global climate change, at least partially. The most serious uncertainties associated with this part of the study are a quantification of the relationship between the amount of black carbon deposition and snow albedo—a subject of future study. The comparison of the spring snowpack simulated with a single- and multi-layer snow model during the spring of 1998 shows that a more realistic treatment of snow physics in a multi-layer snow model could improve snowpack simulations, especially during spring when snow ablation is significant, or in conjunction with climate change projections.
The atmospheric conditions that lead to strong offshore surface winds in Southern California, commonly referred to as Santa Ana winds, are investigated using the North American Regional Reanalysis and a 12-year, 6-km resolution regional climate simulation of Southern California. We first construct an index to characterize Santa Ana events based on offshore wind strength. This index is then used to identify the average synoptic conditions associated with Santa Ana events—a high pressure anomaly over the Great Basin. This pressure anomaly causes offshore geostrophic winds roughly perpendicular to the region’s mountain ranges, which in turn cause surface flow as the offshore momentum is transferred to the surface. We find, however, that there are large variations in the synoptic conditions during Santa Ana conditions, and that there are many days with strong offshore flow and weak synoptic forcing. This is due to local thermodynamic forcing that also causes strong offshore surface flow: a large temperature gradient between the cold desert surface and the warm ocean air at the same altitude creates an offshore pressure gradient at that altitude, in turn causing katabatic-like offshore flow in a thin layer near the surface. We quantify the contribution of “synoptic” and “local thermodynamic” mechanisms using a bivariate linear regression model, and find that, unless synoptic conditions force strongly onshore winds, the local thermodynamic forcing is the primary control on Santa Ana variability.
Fire plays a crucial role in many ecosystems, and a better understanding of different controls on fire activity is needed. Here we analyze spatial variation in fire danger during episodic wind events in coastal southern California, a densely populated Mediterranean‐climate region. By reconstructing almost a decade of fire weather patterns through detailed simulations of Santa Ana winds, we produced the first high‐resolution map of where these hot, dry winds are consistently most severe and which areas are relatively sheltered. We also analyzed over half a century of mapped fire history in chaparral ecosystems of the region, finding that our models successfully predict where the largest wildfires are most likely to occur. There is a surprising lack of information about extreme wind patterns worldwide, and more quantitative analyses of their spatial variation will be important for effective fire management and sustainable long‐term urban development on fire‐prone landscapes.
A study of the California Sierra Nevada snowpack has been conducted using snow station observations and reanalysis surface temperature data. Monthly snow water equivalent (SWE) measurements were combined from two datasets to provide sufficient data from 1930 to 2008. The monthly snapshots are used to calculate peak snow mass timing for each snow season. Since 1930, there has been an overall trend toward earlier snow mass peak timing by 0.6 days per decade. The trend toward earlier timing also occurs at nearly all individual stations. Even stations showing an increase in 1 April SWE exhibit the trend toward earlier timing, indicating that enhanced melting is occurring at nearly all stations. Analysis of individual years and stations reveals that warm daily maximum temperatures averaged over March and April are associated with earlier snow mass peak timing for all spatial and temporal scales included in the dataset. The influence is particularly pronounced for low accumulation years indicating the potential importance of albedo feedback for the melting of shallow snow. The robustness of the early spring temperature influence on peak timing suggests the trend toward earlier peak timing is attributable to the simultaneous warming trend (0.1°C decade−1 since 1930, with an acceleration in warming in later time periods). Given future scenarios of warming in California, one can expect acceleration in the trend toward earlier peak timing; this will reduce the warm season storage capacity of the California snowpack.
We show that intermodel variations in the anthropogenically-forced evolution of September sea ice extent (SSIE) in the Arctic stem mainly from two factors: the baseline climatological sea ice thickness (SIT) distribution, and the local climate feedback parameter. The roles of these two factors evolve over the course of the twenty-first century. The SIT distribution is the most important factor in current trends and those of coming decades, accounting for roughly half the intermodel variations in SSIE trends. Then, its role progressively decreases, so that around the middle of the twenty-first century the local climate feedback parameter becomes the dominant factor. Through this analysis, we identify the investments in improved simulation of Arctic climate necessary to reduce uncertainties both in projections of sea ice loss over the coming decades and in the ultimate fate of the ice pack.
Observational studies have shown that mesoscale variations in sea surface temperature may induce mesoscale variations in wind. In eastern subtropical upwelling regions such as the California coast, this mechanism could be of great importance for the mean state and variability of the climate system. In coastal regions orography also creates mesoscale variations in wind, and the orographic effect may extend more than 100 km offshore. The respective roles of SST/wind links and coastal orography in shaping mesoscale wind variations in nearshore regions is not clear. We address this question in the context of the California Upwelling System, using a high-resolution regional numerical modeling system coupling the WRF atmospheric model to the ROMS oceanic model, as well as additional uncoupled experiments to quantify and separate the effects of SST/wind links and coastal orography on mesoscale wind variations. After taking into account potential biases in the representation of the strength of SST/wind links by the model, our results suggest that the magnitude of mesoscale wind variations arising from the orographic effects is roughly twice that of wind variations associated with mesoscale SST anomalies. This indicates that even in this region where coastal orography is complex and leaves a strong imprint on coastal winds, the role of SST/winds links in shaping coastal circulation and climate cannot be neglected.
The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed significantly since the 1950s. This pronounced and isolated warming trend is collectively captured by 29 twentieth-century climate hindcasts participating in the version 3 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. To understand the factors driving warming trends in the hindcasts, we examine trends in Peninsula region’s atmospheric heat budget in every simulation. We find that atmospheric latent heat release increases in nearly all hindcasts. These increases are generally anthropogenic in origin, and account for about 60% of the ensemble-mean warming trend in the Peninsula. They are driven primarily by well-understood features of the anthropogenic intensification of global hydrological cycle. As sea surface temperature increases, moisture contained in atmospheric flows increases. When such flows are forced to ascend the Peninsula’s topography, enhanced local latent heat release results. The mechanism driving the warming of the Antarctic Peninsula is therefore clear in the models. Evidence for a similar mechanism operating in the real world is seen in the increasing snow accumulation rates inferred from ice cores drilled in the Peninsula. However, the relative importance of this mechanism and other processes previously identified as potentially causing the observed warming, such as the recent sea ice retreat in the Bellingshausen Sea, is difficult to assess. Thus the relevance of the simulated warming mechanism to the observed warming is unclear, in spite of its robustness in the models.
Using a 6-km-resolution regional climate simulation of Southern California, the effect of orographic blocking on the precipitation climatology is examined. To diagnose whether blocking occurs, precipitating hours are categorized by a bulk Froude number. The precipitation distribution becomes much more spatially homogeneous as the Froude number decreases, and an inspection of winds confirms that this results from the increasing prevalence of orographic blocking. Low Froude (Froude approximately less than 1), blocked cases account for a large fraction of climatological precipitation, particularly at the coastline where more than half is attributable to blocked cases. Thus, the climatological precipitation–slope relationship seen in observations and in the simulation is a hybrid of blocked and unblocked cases.
Simulated precipitation distributions are compared to those predicted by a simple linear model that includes only rainfall arising from direct forced topographic ascent. The agreement is nearly perfect for high Froude (Froude substantially larger than 1) cases but degrades dramatically as the index decreases; as blocking becomes more prevalent, the precipitation–slope relationship becomes continuously weaker than that predicted by the linear model. Because of its high fidelity during unblocked cases, it is surmised that blocking effects are the primary limitation preventing the linear model from accurately representing precipitation climatology and that the representation would be significantly improved during low Froude hours by the addition of a term to reduce the effective slope of the topography. These results suggest orographic blocking may substantially affect climatological precipitation distributions in similarly configured coastal areas.
The large spread of the response to anthropogenic forcing simulated by state-of-the-art climate models in the Arctic is investigated. A feedback analysis framework specific to the Arctic is developed to address this issue. The feedback analysis shows that a large part of the spread of Arctic climate change is explained by the longwave feedback parameter. The large spread of the negative longwave feedback parameter is in turn mainly due to variations in temperature feedback. The vertical temperature structure of the atmosphere in the Arctic, characterized by a surface inversion during wintertime, exerts a strong control on the temperature feedback and consequently on simulated Arctic climate change. Most current climate models likely overestimate the climatological strength of the inversion, leading to excessive negative longwave feedback. The authors conclude that the models’ near-equilibrium response to anthropogenic forcing is generally too small.
Climate change is expected to cause a reduction in the spatial extent of snow cover on land. Recent work suggests that this will exert a local influence on the atmosphere and the hydrology of snow‐margin areas through the snow‐albedo feedback (SAF) mechanism. A significant fraction of variability among IPCC AR4 general circulation model (GCM) predictions for future summertime climate change over these areas is related to the models' representation of springtime SAF. In this study, we demonstrate a nonlocal influence of SAF on the summertime circulation in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere. Increased land surface warming in models with stronger SAF is associated with large‐scale sea‐level pressure anomalies over the northern oceans and a poleward intensified subtropical jet. We find that up to 25–30% and, on average, 5–10% of the inter‐model spread in projections of the circulation response to climate change is linearly related to SAF strength.
Biologically produced dimethylsulfide (DMS) is an important source of sulfur to the marine atmosphere that may affect cloud formation and properties. DMS is involved in a complex set of biochemical transformations and ecological exchanges so its global distribution is influenced by numerous factors, including oxidative stress from UV radiation. We re‐examine correlations between global surface DMS concentrations and mixed layer solar radiation dose (SRD), and find that SRD accounts for only a very small fraction (14%) of total variance in DMS measurements when using minimal aggregation methods. Moreover this relationship arises in part from the fact that when mixed layers deepen, both SRD and DMS decrease. When we control for this confounding effect, the correlation between DMS and SRD is reduced even further. These results indicate that factors other than solar irradiance play a leading role in determining global DMS emissions.
The Arctic climate is changing rapidly1. From 1979 to 2006, September sea-ice extent decreased by almost 25% or about 100,000 km2 per year (ref. 2). In September 2007, Arctic sea-ice extent reached its lowest level since satellite observations began3and in September 2008, sea-ice cover was still low. This development has raised concerns that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in late summer in only a few decades, with important economic and geopolitical implications. Unfortunately, most current climate models underestimate significantly the observed trend in Arctic sea-ice decline4, leading to doubts regarding their projections for the timing of ice-free conditions. Here we analyse the simulated trends in past sea-ice cover in 18 state-of-art-climate models and find a direct relationship between the simulated evolution of September sea-ice cover over the twenty-first century and the magnitude of past trends in sea-ice cover. Using this relationship together with observed trends, we project the evolution of September sea-ice cover over the twenty-first century. We find that under a scenario with medium future greenhouse-gas emissions, the Arctic Ocean will probably be ice-free in September before the end of the twenty-first century.
Two main mechanisms can potentially explain the spread in the magnitude of global warming simulated by climate models: deep ocean heat uptake and climate feedbacks. Here, we show that deep oceanic heat uptake is a major source of spread in simulations of 21st century climate change. Models with deeper baseline polar mixed layers are associated with larger deep ocean warming and smaller global surface warming. Based on this result, we set forth an observational constraint on polar vertical oceanic mixing. This constraint suggests that many models may overestimate the efficiency of polar oceanic mixing and therefore may underestimate future surface warming. Thus to reduce climate change uncertainties at time‐scales relevant for policy‐making, improved understanding and modelling of oceanic mixing at high latitudes is crucial.
Observation based estimates of controls on snow albedo feedback (SAF) are needed to constrain the snow and albedo parameterizations in general circulation model (GCM) projections of air temperature over the Northern Hemisphere (NH) landmass. The total April‐May NH SAF, corresponding to the sum of the effect of temperature on surface albedo over snow covered surfaces (‘metamorphism’) and over surfaces transitioning from snow covered to snow free conditions (‘snow cover’), is derived with daily NH snow cover and surface albedo products using Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer Polar Pathfinder satellite data and surface air temperature from ERA40 reanalysis data between 1982–1999. Without using snow cover information, the estimated total SAF, for land surfaces north of 30°N, of −0.93 ± 0.06%K−1 was not significantly different (95% confidence) from estimates based on International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project surface albedo data. The SAF, constrained to only snow covered areas, grew to −1.06 ± 0.08%K−1 with similar magnitudes for the ‘snow cover’ and ‘metamorphosis’ components. The SAF pattern was significantly correlated with the ‘snow cover’ component pattern over both North America and Eurasia but only over Eurasia for the ‘metamorphosis’ component. However, in contrast to GCM model based diagnoses of SAF, the control on the ‘snow cover’ component related to the albedo contrast of snow covered and snow free surfaces was not strongly correlated to the total SAF.
Across vast, agriculturally intensive regions of the United States, the spread in predictions of summer temperature and soil moisture under global warming is curiously elevated in current climate models. Some models show modest warming of 2–3C° and little drying or slight moistening by the 22nd century, while at the other extreme are simulations with warming as large as 7–8C° and 20–40% reductions in soil moisture. We show this region of large spread arises from differences in simulations of snow albedo feedback. During winter and early spring, models with strong snow albedo feedback exhibit large reductions in snowpack and hence water storage. This water deficit persists in summer soil moisture, with reduced evapotranspiration yielding warmer temperatures. Comparison of simulated feedback strength to observations of the feedback from the current climate's seasonal cycle suggests the inter‐model differences are excessive. At the same time, the multi‐model mean feedback strength agrees reasonably well with the observed value. We estimate that if the next generation of models were brought into line with observations of snow albedo feedback, the unusually wide divergence in simulations of summer warming and drying over the US would shrink by roughly one third to one half.
The strength of snow-albedo feedback (SAF) in transient climate change simulations of the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is generally determined by the surface-albedo decrease associated with a loss of snow cover rather than the reduction in snow albedo due to snow metamorphosis in a warming climate. The large intermodel spread in SAF strength is likewise attributable mostly to the snow cover component. The spread in the strength of this component is in turn mostly attributable to a correspondingly large spread in mean effective snow albedo. Models with large effective snow albedos have a large surface-albedo contrast between snow-covered and snow-free regions and exhibit a correspondingly large surface-albedo decrease when snow cover decreases. Models without explicit treatment of the vegetation canopy in their surface-albedo calculations typically have high effective snow albedos and strong SAF, often stronger than observed. In models with explicit canopy treatment, completely snow-covered surfaces typically have lower albedos and the simulations have weaker SAF, generally weaker than observed. The authors speculate that in these models either snow albedos or canopy albedos when snow is present are too low, or vegetation shields snow-covered surfaces excessively. Detailed observations of surface albedo in a representative sampling of snow-covered surfaces would therefore be extremely useful in constraining these parameterizations and reducing SAF spread in the next generation of models.
We examine the climatological diurnal cycle of surface air temperature in a 6 km resolution atmospheric simulation of Southern California from 1995 to the present. We find its amplitude and phase both have significant geographical structure. This is most likely due to diurnally-varying flows back and forth across the coastline and elevation isolines resulting from the large daily warming and cooling over land. Because the region’s atmosphere is generally stably stratified, these flow patterns result in air of lower (higher) potential temperature being advected upslope (downslope) during daytime (nighttime). This suppresses the temperature diurnal cycle amplitude at mountaintops where diurnal flows converge (diverge) during the day (night). The nighttime land breeze also advects air of higher potential temperature downslope toward the coast. This raises minimum temperatures in land areas adjacent to the coast in a manner analogous to the daytime suppression of maximum temperature by the cool sea breeze in these same areas. Because stratification is greater in the coastal zone than in the desert interior, these thermal effects of the diurnal winds are not uniform, generating spatial structures in the phase and shape of the temperature diurnal cycle as well as its amplitude. We confirm that the simulated characteristics of the temperature diurnal cycle as well as those of the associated diurnal winds are also found in a network of 30 observation stations in the region. This gives confidence in the simulation’s realism and our study’s findings. Diurnal flows are probably mainly responsible for the geographical structures in the temperature diurnal cycle in other regions of significant topography and surface heterogeneity, their importance depending partly on the degree of atmospheric stratification.
We developed a 3D Monte Carlo photon tracing program for the transfer of radiation in inhomogeneous and irregular terrain to calculate broadband solar and thermal infrared fluxes. We selected an area of 100 × 100 km2 in the Tibetan Plateau centered at Lhasa city and used the albedo and surface temperature from MODIS/Terra for this study. We showed that anomalies of surface solar fluxes with reference to a flat surface can be as large as 600 W/m2, depending on time of day, mountain configuration, and albedo. Surface temperature is the dominating factor in determining anomalies of the surface infrared flux distribution relative to a flat surface with values as high as 70 W/m2 at cold mountain surfaces. The average surface solar flux over regional domains of 100 × 100 km2 and 50 × 50 km2 comprising intense topography can deviate from the smoothed surface conventionally assumed in climate models and GCMs by 10–50 W/m2.