Origins of tropical-wide SST biases in CMIP multi-model ensembles

Li, G, Xie SP.  2012.  Origins of tropical-wide SST biases in CMIP multi-model ensembles. Geophysical Research Letters. 39

Date Published:



coupled ocean, general-circulation models, pacific, seasonal cycle, temperature, variability


Long-standing simulation errors limit the utility of climate models. Overlooked are tropical-wide errors, with sea surface temperature (SST) biasing high or low across all the tropical ocean basins. Our analysis based on Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) multi-model ensembles shows that such SST biases can be classified into two types: one with a broad meridional structure and of the same sign across all basins that is highly correlated with the tropical mean; and one with large inter-model variability in the cold tongues of the equatorial Pacific and Atlantic. The first type can be traced back to biases in atmospheric simulations of cloud cover, with cloudy models biasing low in tropical-wide SST. The second type originates from the diversity among models in representing the thermocline depth; models with a deep thermocline feature a warm cold tongue on the equator. Implications for inter-model variability in precipitation climatology and SST threshold for convection are discussed. Citation: Li, G., and S.-P. Xie (2012), Origins of tropical-wide SST biases in CMIP multi-model ensembles, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L22703, doi: 10.1029/2012GL053777.






Scripps Publication ID: