Rosenlof Karen H.

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Karen H.

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Recent tropical expansion: natural variability or forced response?

2019-02-06 , Grise, Kevin M. , Davis, Sean M. , Simpson, Isla R. , Waugh, Darryn W. , Fu, Qiang , Allen, Robert J. , Rosenlof, Karen H. , Ummenhofer, Caroline C. , Karnauskas, Kristopher B. , Maycock, Amanda C. , Quan, Xiao-Wei , Birner, Thomas , Staten, Paul W.

Previous studies have documented a poleward shift in the subsiding branches of Earth’s Hadley circulation since 1979 but have disagreed on the causes of these observed changes and the ability of global climate models to capture them. This synthesis paper reexamines a number of contradictory claims in the past literature and finds that the tropical expansion indicated by modern reanalyses is within the bounds of models’ historical simulations for the period 1979–2005. Earlier conclusions that models were underestimating the observed trends relied on defining the Hadley circulation using the mass streamfunction from older reanalyses. The recent observed tropical expansion has similar magnitudes in the annual mean in the Northern Hemisphere (NH) and Southern Hemisphere (SH), but models suggest that the factors driving the expansion differ between the hemispheres. In the SH, increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs) and stratospheric ozone depletion contributed to tropical expansion over the late twentieth century, and if GHGs continue increasing, the SH tropical edge is projected to shift further poleward over the twenty-first century, even as stratospheric ozone concentrations recover. In the NH, the contribution of GHGs to tropical expansion is much smaller and will remain difficult to detect in a background of large natural variability, even by the end of the twenty-first century. To explain similar recent tropical expansion rates in the two hemispheres, natural variability must be taken into account. Recent coupled atmosphere–ocean variability, including the Pacific decadal oscillation, has contributed to tropical expansion. However, in models forced with observed sea surface temperatures, tropical expansion rates still vary widely because of internal atmospheric variability.

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Tropical widening from global variations to regional impacts

2020-06-01 , Staten, Paul W. , Grise, Kevin M. , Davis, Sean M. , Karnauskas, Kristopher B. , Waugh, Darryn W. , Maycock, Amanda C. , Fu, Qiang , Cook, Kerry , Adam, Ori , Simpson, Isla R. , Allen, Robert J. , Rosenlof, Karen H. , Chen, Gang , Ummenhofer, Caroline C. , Quan, Xiao-Wei , Kossin, James P. , Davis, Nicholas A. , Son, Seok-Woo

Over the past 15 years, numerous studies have suggested that the sinking branches of Earth’s Hadley circulation and the associated subtropical dry zones have shifted poleward over the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. Early estimates of this tropical widening from satellite observations and reanalyses varied from 0.25° to 3° latitude per decade, while estimates from global climate models show widening at the lower end of the observed range. In 2016, two working groups, the U.S. Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) working group on the Changing Width of the Tropical Belt and the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) Tropical Width Diagnostics Intercomparison Project, were formed to synthesize current understanding of the magnitude, causes, and impacts of the recent tropical widening evident in observations. These working groups concluded that the large rates of observed tropical widening noted by earlier studies resulted from their use of metrics that poorly capture changes in the Hadley circulation, or from the use of reanalyses that contained spurious trends. Accounting for these issues reduces the range of observed expansion rates to 0.25°–0.5° latitude decade‒1—within the range from model simulations. Models indicate that most of the recent Northern Hemisphere tropical widening is consistent with natural variability, whereas increasing greenhouse gases and decreasing stratospheric ozone likely played an important role in Southern Hemisphere widening. Whatever the cause or rate of expansion, understanding the regional impacts of tropical widening requires additional work, as different forcings can produce different regional patterns of widening.