Connections between the TTL and sea surface temperatures: interannual variability and trends

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015
Chaim I. Garfinkel, Johns Hopkins Univ., Baltimore, MD; and D. W. Waugh, L. Wang, L. Oman, and M. M. Hurwitz

Comprehensive chemistry-climate models and satellite data are used to investigate the forcing of variability in the tropical lower stratosphere and upper troposphere. As this region is the origination region for air parcels which enter the stratosphere, it is important to understand variability in this region on timescales ranging from the seasonal to decadal. The warming trend in the tropical upper troposphere over the past 30 years is strongest near the Indo-Pacific warm pool, while the warming trend in the western and central Pacific is much weaker. In the lower stratosphere, these trends are reversed: the historical cooling trend is strongest over the Indo-Pacific warm pool and is weakest in the western and central Pacific. These zonal variations are stronger than the zonal-mean response in boreal winter. Targeted experiments with a chemistry-climate model are used to demonstrate that sea surface temperature trends are driving the zonal asymmetry in upper tropospheric and lower stratospheric tropical temperature trends. The anomalous circulation set up by the changing SSTs has led to zonal structure in the ozone and water vapor trends near the tropopause, and subsequently to less water vapor entering the stratosphere. Projected future sea surface temperatures appear to drive a temperature and water vapor response whose zonal structure is similar to the historical response. In the lower stratosphere, the changes in water vapor and temperature due to projected future sea surface temperatures is of similar strength to, though slightly weaker than, that due directly to projected future CO_2, ozone, and methane. Finally, targeted experiments with a chemistry climate model are used to demonstrate that seasonality and the location of the peak warming of sea surface temperatures dictate the response of stratospheric water vapor to El Nino. In spring, El Nino events in which sea surface temperature anomalies peak in the eastern Pacific lead to a warming at the tropopause above the warm pool region, and subsequently to more stratospheric water vapor (consistent with previous work). However, in fall and in early winter, and also during El Nino events in which the sea surface temperature anomaly is found mainly in the central Pacific, the response is qualitatively different: temperature changes in the warm pool region are nonuniform and less water vapor enters the stratosphere. The difference in water vapor in the lower stratosphere between the two variants of El Nino approaches 0.3 ppmv, while the difference between the winter and spring responses exceeds 0.5 ppmv.