Climate response to basin-specific changes in latitudinal temperature gradients and implications for sea ice variability

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Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres
Journal Date: 
Sep 16
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We use experiments with the GISS general circulation model to investigate how changes in latitudinal temperature gradients affect atmospheric circulation in different ocean basins, with particular attention paid to the implications for high-latitude sea ice. The results are relevant to both estimated past climate changes, current climate gradient changes (e.g., El Nino-Southern Oscillation events), and proposed future climate responses to greenhouse gases. Sea surface temperature gradients are increased/decreased in all ocean basins, and in the Pacific and Atlantic separately, without changing sea ice or global average temperature. Additional experiments prescribe sea ice growth/reduction with global cooling/warming. As expected, increased gradients strengthen the subtropical jet stream and deepen the subpolar lows in each hemisphere, but results in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres differ in fundamental ways. In the Northern Hemisphere, increased storm intensities occur in the ocean basin with the increased gradient; in the Southern Hemisphere the deeper storms occur in the ocean basin with the decreased gradient. Alterations of the gradient in one ocean basin change longitudinal temperature gradients; an increased gradient in one basin from tropical heating results in subsidence in the tropics in the other basin, mimicking the effect of a decreased gradient in that basin. The subtropical jet is therefore strengthened over the basin with the increased gradient and decreased over the other ocean basin. Hence in many respects, regional effects, such as the strength of subpolar lows in an individual basin, are amplified when the gradient changes are of opposite sign in the two ocean basins. The Southern Hemisphere response occurs because gradient increases in one ocean basin, by strengthening the subtropical jet, shift storm tracks equatorward and away from the potential energy source associated with cold air advection from Antarctica. At the same time, with a weaker subtropical jet in the other basin, storms move poleward and strengthen. This latter effect may explain observed sea ice variations that are out of phase in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean basins in the Southern Hemisphere (referred to as the Antarctic dipole) as well as upper ocean variability in the Weddell gyre. Gradient changes produce little effect on sea level pressure in the Arctic, unless sea ice is changed. With Arctic sea ice reductions, the sea ice response acts as a positive feedback, inducing cyclonic circulation changes that would enhance its removal, as may be occurring due to the current high phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation.


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