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Peng, QH, Xie SP, Wang DX, Zheng XT, Zhang H.  2019.  Coupled ocean-atmosphere dynamics of the 2017 extreme coastal El Nino. Nature Communications. 10   10.1038/s41467-018-08258-8   AbstractWebsite

In March 2017, sea surface temperatures off Peru rose above 28 degrees C, causing torrential rains that affected the lives of millions of people. This coastal warming is highly unusual in that it took place with a weak La Nina state. Observations and ocean model experiments show that the downwelling Kelvin waves caused by strong westerly wind events over the equatorial Pacific, together with anomalous northerly coastal winds, are important. Atmospheric model experiments further show the anomalous coastal winds are forced by the coastal warming. Taken together, these results indicate a positive feedback off Peru between the coastal warming, atmospheric deep convection, and the coastal winds. These coupled processes provide predictability. Indeed, initialized on as early as 1 February 2017, seasonal prediction models captured the extreme rainfall event. Climate model projections indicate that the frequency of extreme coastal El Nino will increase under global warming.

Hwang, YT, Xie SP, Deser C, Kang SM.  2017.  Connecting tropical climate change with Southern Ocean heat uptake. Geophysical Research Letters. 44:9449-9457.   10.1002/2017gl074972   AbstractWebsite

Under increasing greenhouse gas forcing, climate models project tropical warming that is greater in the Northern than the Southern Hemisphere, accompanied by a reduction in the northeast trade winds and a strengthening of the southeast trades. While the ocean-atmosphere coupling indicates a positive feedback, what triggers the coupled asymmetry and favors greater warming in the northern tropics remains unclear. Far away from the tropics, the Southern Ocean (SO) has been identified as the major region of ocean heat uptake. Beyond its local effect on the magnitude of sea surface warming, we show by idealized modeling experiments in a coupled slab ocean configuration that enhanced SO heat uptake has a profound global impact. This SO-to-tropics connection is consistent with southward atmospheric energy transport across the equator. Enhanced SO heat uptake results in a zonally asymmetric La-Nina-like pattern of sea surface temperature change that not only affects tropical precipitation but also has influences on the Asian and North American monsoons.

Lintner, BR, Langenbrunner B, Neelin JD, Anderson BT, Niznik MJ, Li G, Xie SP.  2016.  Characterizing CMIP5 model spread in simulated rainfall in the Pacific Intertropical Convergence and South Pacific Convergence Zones. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 121:11590-11607.   10.1002/2016jd025284   AbstractWebsite

Current-generation climate models exhibit various errors or biases in both the spatial distribution and intensity of precipitation relative to observations. In this study, empirical orthogonal function analysis is applied to the space-model index domain of precipitation over the Pacific from Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) simulations to explore systematic spread of simulated precipitation characteristics across the ensemble. Two significant modes of spread, generically termed principal uncertainty patterns (PUPs), are identified in the December-January-February precipitation climatology: the leading PUP is associated with the meridional width of deep convection, while the second is associated with tradeoffs in precipitation intensity along the South Pacific Convergence Zone, the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), and the spurious Southern Hemisphere ITCZ. An important factor distinguishing PUPs from the analogy to time series analysis is that the modes can reflect either true systematic intermodel variance patterns or internal variability. In order to establish that the PUPS reflect the former, three complementary tests are performed by using preindustrial control simulations: a bootstrap significance test for reproducibility of the intermodel spatial patterns, a check for robustness over very long climatological averages, and a test on the loadings of these patterns relative to interdecadal sampling. Composite analysis based on these PUPs demonstrates physically plausible relationships to CMIP5 ensemble spread in simulated sea surface temperatures (SSTs), circulation, and moisture. Further analysis of atmosphere-only, prescribed SST simulations demonstrates decreased spread in the spatial distribution of precipitation, while substantial spread in intensity remains. Key Points Systematic spread in CMIP5 simulation of Pacific region rainfall is investigated by using empirical mode reduction techniques Two significant modes of model spread are identified for the DJF rainfall climatology These modes are interpreted in terms of spread in simulated patterns of SST and circulation

Kang, SM, Held IM, Xie SP.  2014.  Contrasting the tropical responses to zonally asymmetric extratropical and tropical thermal forcing. Climate Dynamics. 42:2033-2043.   10.1007/s00382-013-1863-0   AbstractWebsite

The mechanism is investigated by which extratropical thermal forcing with a finite zonal extent produces global impact. The goal is to understand the near-global response to a weakened Atlantic meridional overturning circulation suggested by paleoclimate data and modeling studies. An atmospheric model coupled to an aquaplanet slab mixed layer ocean, in which the unperturbed climate is zonally symmetric, is perturbed by prescribing cooling of the mixed layer in the Northern Hemisphere and heating of equal magnitude in the Southern Hemisphere, over some finite range of longitudes. In the case of heating/cooling confined to the extratropics, the zonally asymmetric forcing is homogenized by midlatitude westerlies and extratropical eddies before passing on to the tropics, inducing a zonally symmetric tropical response. In addition, the zonal mean responses vary little as the zonal extent of the forced region is changed, holding the zonal mean heating fixed, implying little impact of stationary eddies on the zonal mean. In contrast, when the heating/cooling is confined to the tropics, the zonally asymmetric forcing produces a highly localized response with slight westward extension, due to advection by mean easterly trade winds. Regardless of the forcing location, neither the spatial structure nor the zonal mean responses are strongly affected by wind-evaporation-sea surface temperature feedback.