9.6 Contraction of the Tropical Precipitation with Global Warming

Wednesday, 28 June 2017: 2:45 PM
Salon F (Marriott Portland Downtown Waterfront)
Aaron Donohoe, APL, Seattle, WA

A method for decomposing changes and variability in the spatial structure of tropical precipitation into shifting (meridional translation), contracting, and intensifying modes of variability is introduced. We demonstrate that the shifting mode of tropical precipitation explains very little (<10%) of both the observed year-to-year variability and the modeled changes under anthropogenic and paleoclimatic forcing. In contrast, the intensifying and contracting modes explain significantly (>20%) more of the tropical precipitation changes and variability. Furthermore, the contraction of tropical precipitation is highly correlated (R2 > 0.95) with an intensification of the precipitation in both the observations and forced modeled simulations.

These results suggest that the simultaneous contraction and intensification of tropical precipitation is the dominant mode of variability and changes under external forcing. We speculate that tropical surface temperature controls this concurrent variability. Indeed, models robustly predict that tropical precipitation increases and meridionally contracts in response to increased CO2 and is reduced and meridionally expanded under glacial forcing and boundary conditions. In contrast, the directionality of the tropical precipitation shift is both ambiguous and small in magnitude in response to increased CO2. Furthermore, the ratio of the contraction/expansion to intensification/reduction is consistent in the continuum of climate states from the glacial climate to a modern climate to a 4XCO2 climate suggesting that the intensification and contraction are linked together via a single mechanism.

We examine two mechanisms responsible for the contraction of the precipitation under global warming : i. the reduction of the seasonal cycle of energy input to the atmosphere due to sea ice retreat that results in the tropical precipitation remaining closer to the equator during the solsticial seasons and; ii. the increased gross moist stability of the tropical atmosphere as the surface warms resulting in a weaker cross-equatorial Hadley circulation during the solsticial seasons.

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner