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Title: A dichotomy between model responses of tropical ascent and descent to surface warming

Simulations of tropical atmospheric circulation response to surface warming vary substantially across models, causing large uncertainties in projections of regional precipitation change. Understanding the physical processes that drive the model spread in tropical circulation changes is critically needed. Here we employ the basic mass balance and energetic constraints on tropical circulation to identify the dominant factors that determine multidecadal circulation strength and area changes in climate models. We show that the models produce a robust weakening of descent rate under warming regardless of surface warming patterns; however, ascent rate change exhibits inter-model spread twice as large as descent rate because of diverse model responses in the radiative effects of clouds, water vapor, and aerosols. As ascent area change is dictated by the disparate descent and ascent rate changes due to the mass budget and the inter-model spread in descent rate change is small, the model spread in ascent area change is dominated by that of ascent rate change, resulting in a strong anti-correlation of –0.85 between the fractional changes of ascent strength and area across 77 climate model simulations. This anti-correlation leads to a corresponding inverse relationship between the rates of precipitation intensifying and narrowing of the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ), suggesting tropical ascent area change can be potentially used to constrain the ITCZ precipitation change. Longwave cloud radiative effect at the top-of-atmosphere (TOA) in the convective region is identified to be a major source of uncertainties for tropical ascent rate change and thus for regional precipitation change.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Nature Publishing Group
Date Published:
Journal Name:
npj Climate and Atmospheric Science
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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