Role of Stratospheric Water Vapor in Global Warming from GCM Simulations Constrained by MLS Observation

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Monday, 5 January 2015: 5:15 PM
122BC (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Yuan Wang, California Institute of Technology/JPL, Pasadena, CA; and H. Su, J. Jiang, N. Livesey, M. L. Santee, and P. C. Stek

Over the past century, global average surface temperature has warmed by about 0.16C/decade, largely due to anthropogenic increases in well-mixed greenhouse gases. However, the trend in global surface temperatures has been nearly flat since 2000, raising a question regarding the exploration of the drivers of climate change. Water vapor is a strong greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Previous studies suggested that the sudden decrease of stratospheric water vapor (SWV) around 2000 may have contributed to the stall of global warming. Since 2004, the SWV observed by Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) on Aura satellite has shown a slow recovery. The role of recent SWV variations in global warming has not been quantified. We employ a coupled atmosphere-ocean climate model, the NCAR CESM, to address this issue. It is found that the CESM underestimates the stratospheric water vapor by about 1 ppmv due to limited representations of the stratospheric dynamic and chemical processes important for water vapor variabilities. By nudging the modeled SWV to the MLS observation, we find that increasing SWV by 1 ppmv produces a robust surface warming about 0.2C in global-mean when the model reaches equilibrium. Conversely, the sudden drop of SWV from 2000 to 2004 would cause a surface cooling about -0.08C in global-mean. On the other hand, imposing the observed linear trend of SWV based on the 10-year observation of MLS in the CESM yields a rather slow surface warming, about 0.04C/decade. Our model experiments suggest that SWV contributes positively to the global surface temperature variation, although it may not be the dominant factor that drives the recent global warming hiatus. Additional sensitivity experiments show that the impact of SWV on surface climate is mostly governed by the SWV amount at 100 hPa in the tropics. Furthermore, the atmospheric model simulations driven by observed sea surface temperature (SST) show that the inter-annual variation of SWV follows that of SST, suggesting a close coupling between surface temperature and SWV.