2002 Annual

Thursday, 17 January 2002: 11:30 AM
Sensitivity of the tropical atmospheric energy balance to ENSO-related SST changes: How well can we quantify hydrologic and radiative responses?
Franklin R. Robertson, NASA/MSFC, Huntsville, AL; and D. Fitzjarrald and B. J. Sohn
The continuing debate over feedback mechanisms governing tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and tropical climate in general has highlighted the diversity of potential checks and balances within the climate system. Competing feedbacks due to changes in surface evaporation, water vapor, and cloud long- and shortwave radiative properties each may serve critical roles in stabilizing or destabilizing the climate system. It is also intriguing that even those climate variations having origins internal to the climate system-- changes in ocean heat transport for example, apparently require complementary equilibrating effects by changes in atmospheric energy fluxes. Perhaps the best observational evidence of this is the relatively invariant nature of tropically averaged net radiation exiting the top-of-atmosphere (TOA) as measured by broadband satellite sensors over the past two decades. Thus, analyzing how these feedback mechanisms are operating within the context of current interannual variability may offer considerable insight for anticipating future climate change.

In this paper we focus on how fresh water and radiative fluxes over the tropical oceans change during ENSO warm and cold events and how these changes affect the tropical energy balance. At present, ENSO remains the most prominent known mode of natural variability at interannual time scales. Although great advances have been made in understanding this phenomenon and realizing prediction skill over the past decade, our ability to document the coupled water and energy changes observationally and to represent them in climate models seems far from settled (Soden, 2000 J Climate). Our analysis makes use a number of data bases, principally those derived from space-based measurements, to explore systematic changes in rainfall, evaporation, and surface and top-of-atmosphere (TOA) radiative fluxes. A reexamination of the Langley 8-Year Surface Radiation Budget data set reveals errors in the surface longwave emission due to use of biased SSTs. Subsequent correction allows subsequent use of this data set along with ERBE TOA fluxes to infer net atmospheric radiative heating. Further analysis of recent rainfall algorithms provides new estimates for precipitation variability in line with interannual evaporation changes inferred from the da Silva, Young, Levitus COADS analysis. The overall results from our analysis suggest an increase (decrease) of the hydrologic cycle during ENSO warm (cold) events at the rate of about 5 Wm-2 per K of SST change. This rate is slightly less than that which would be expected for constant relative humidity over the tropical oceans. Corresponding radiative fluxes seem systematically smaller resulting in a enhanced (suppressed) export of energy from the tropical ocean regions during warm (cold) SST events. Discussion of likely errors due to sampling and measurement strategies are discussed along with their impacts on our conclusions.

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