The enhanced warming of the Arctic, relative to other parts of the Earth, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification, is one of the most striking features of climate change, and has important climatic impacts for the entire Northern Hemisphere. Several mechanisms are believed to be responsible for Arctic amplification; however, a quantitative understanding of their relative importance is still missing. Here, using ensembles of model integrations, we quantify the contribution of ocean coupling, both its thermodynamic and dynamic components, to Arctic amplification over the 20th and 21st centuries. We show that ocean coupling accounts for ~80% of the amplification by 2100. In particular, we show that thermodynamic coupling is responsible for future amplification and sea-ice loss as it overcomes the effect of dynamic coupling which reduces the amplification and sea-ice loss by ~35%. Our results demonstrate the utility of targeted numerical experiments to quantify the role of specific mechanisms in Arctic amplification, for better constraining climate projections.
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Eddy heat fluxes play the important role of transferring heat from low to high latitudes, thus affecting midlatitude climate. The recent and projected polar warming, and its effects on the meridional temperature gradients, suggests a possible weakening of eddy heat fluxes. We here examine this question in reanalyses and state-of-the-art global climate models. In the Northern Hemisphere we find that the eddy heat flux has robustly weakened over the last four decades. We further show that this weakening emerged from the internal variability around the year 2000, and we attribute it to increasing greenhouse gases. In contrast, in the Southern Hemisphere we find that the eddy heat flux has robustly strengthened, and we link this strengthening to the recent multi-decadal cooling of Southern-Ocean surface temperatures. The inability of state-of-the-art climate models to simulate such cooling prevents them from capturing the observed Southern Hemisphere strengthening of the eddy heat flux. This discrepancy between models and reanalyses provides a clear example of how model biases in polar regions can affect the midlatitude climate.
Future emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere are projected to result in significant circulation changes. One of the most important changes is the widening of the tropical belt, which has great societal impacts. Several mechanisms (changes in surface temperature, eddy phase speed, tropopause height, and static stability) have been proposed to explain this widening. However, the coupling between these mechanisms has precluded elucidating their relative importance. Here, the abrupt quadrupled-CO2simulations of phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) are used to examine the proposed mechanisms. The different time responses of the different mechanisms allow us to disentangle and evaluate them. As suggested by earlier studies, the Hadley cell edge is found to be linked to changes in subtropical baroclinicity. In particular, its poleward shift is accompanied by an increase in subtropical static stability (i.e., a decrease in temperature lapse rate) with increased CO2concentrations. These subtropical changes also affect the eddy momentum flux, which shifts poleward together with the Hadley cell edge. Transient changes in tropopause height, eddy phase speed, and surface temperature, however, were found not to accompany the poleward shift of the Hadley cell edge. The widening of the Hadley cell, together with the increase in moisture content, accounts for most of the expansion of the dry zone. Eddy moisture fluxes, on the other hand, are found to play a minor role in the expansion of the dry zone.