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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Research article
04 Jul 2017
Review status
This discussion paper is under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD).
The sensitivity of the large-scale atmosphere circulation to changes in surface temperature gradients in the Northern Hemisphere
Sonja Molnos1,2, Stefan Petri1, Jascha Lehmann1, Erik Peukert1,2, and Dim Coumou1,3 1Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany
2Department of Physics, University of Potsdam, Germany
3Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), VU University Amsterdam
Abstract. Climate and weather conditions in the mid-latitudes are strongly driven by the large-scale atmosphere circulation. Observational data indicates that important components of the large-scale circulation have changed in recent decades including the strength of the Hadley cell, jet streams, storm tracks and planetary waves. Associated impacts cover a broad range, including changes in the frequency and nature of weather extremes and shifts of fertile habitats with implications for biodiversity and agriculture. Dynamical theories have been proposed that link the shift of the poleward edge of the Northern Hadley cell to changes in the meridional temperature gradient. Moreover, model simulations have been carried out to analyse the cause of observed and projected changes in the large-scale atmosphere circulation. However, the question of the underlying drivers and particularly the possible role of global warming is still debated. Here, we use a statistical-dynamical atmosphere model (SDAM) to analyse the sensitivity of the Northern Hemisphere Hadley cell, storm tracks, jet streams and planetary waves to changes in temperature fields by systematically altering the zonal and meridional temperature gradient as well as the global mean surface temperature. SDAMs are computationally fast compared to more complex general circulation models (GCM) which enables us to scan a large and high-dimensional parameter space for sensitivity analyses using more than thousand individual model runs.

Our results show that the strength of the Hadley cell, storm tracks and jet streams depends almost linearly on both the global mean temperature and the meridional temperature gradient whereas the zonal temperature gradient has little or no influence. The magnitude of planetary waves is clearly affected by all three temperature components. Finally, the width of the Hadley cell behaves nonlinearly with respect to all three temperature components.

Under global warming the meridional temperature gradient is expected to change: Enhanced warming is expected in the Arctic, largely near the surface, and at the equator at high altitudes. Also there is a pronounced seasonality to these warming patterns. Using SDAMs to disentangle and separately analyse the effect of individual temperature changes might thus help to understand observed and projected changes in large-scale atmosphere dynamics.

Citation: Molnos, S., Petri, S., Lehmann, J., Peukert, E., and Coumou, D.: The sensitivity of the large-scale atmosphere circulation to changes in surface temperature gradients in the Northern Hemisphere, Earth Syst. Dynam. Discuss.,, in review, 2017.
Sonja Molnos et al.
Sonja Molnos et al.
Sonja Molnos et al.


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