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Title: Energetic Constraints on the Pattern of Changes to the Hydrological Cycle under Global Warming
Abstract The response of zonal-mean precipitation minus evaporation ( P − E ) to global warming is investigated using a moist energy balance model (MEBM) with a simple Hadley cell parameterization. The MEBM accurately emulates zonal-mean P − E change simulated by a suite of global climate models (GCMs) under greenhouse gas forcing. The MEBM also accounts for most of the intermodel differences in GCM P − E change and better emulates GCM P − E change when compared to the “wet-gets-wetter, dry-gets-drier” thermodynamic mechanism. The intermodel spread in P − E change is attributed to intermodel differences in radiative feedbacks, which account for 60%–70% of the intermodel variance, with smaller contributions from radiative forcing and ocean heat uptake. Isolating the intermodel spread of feedbacks to specific regions shows that tropical feedbacks are the primary source of intermodel spread in zonal-mean P − E change. The ability of the MEBM to emulate GCM P − E change is further investigated using idealized feedback patterns. A less negative and narrowly peaked feedback pattern near the equator results in more atmospheric heating, which strengthens the Hadley cell circulation in the deep tropics through an enhanced poleward heat flux. This pattern also increases gross moist stability, which weakens the subtropical Hadley cell circulation. These two processes in unison increase P − E in the deep tropics, decrease P − E in the subtropics, and narrow the intertropical convergence zone. Additionally, a feedback pattern that produces polar-amplified warming partially reduces the poleward moisture flux by weakening the meridional temperature gradient. It is shown that changes to the Hadley cell circulation and the poleward moisture flux are crucial for understanding the pattern of GCM P − E change under warming. Significance Statement Changes to the hydrological cycle over the twenty-first century are predicted to impact ecosystems and socioeconomic activities throughout the world. While it is broadly expected that dry regions will get drier and wet regions will get wetter, the magnitude and spatial structure of these changes remains uncertain. In this study, we use an idealized climate model, which assumes how energy is transported in the atmosphere, to understand the processes setting the pattern of precipitation and evaporation under global warming. We first use the idealized climate model to explain why comprehensive climate models predict different changes to precipitation and evaporation across a range of latitudes. We show this arises primarily from climate feedbacks, which act to amplify or dampen the amount of warming. Ocean heat uptake and radiative forcing play secondary roles but can account for a significant amount of the uncertainty in regions where ocean circulation influences the rate of warming. We further show that uncertainty in tropical feedbacks (mainly from clouds) affects changes to the hydrological cycle across a range of latitudes. We then show how the pattern of climate feedbacks affects how the patterns of precipitation and evaporation respond to climate change through a set of idealized experiments. These results show how the pattern of climate feedbacks impacts tropical hydrological changes by affecting the strength of the Hadley circulation and polar hydrological changes by affecting the transport of moisture to the high latitudes.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1954663 1752796
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Climate
Page Range / eLocation ID:
3499 to 3522
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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