Publications

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2018
Liu, W, Xie SP.  2018.  An ocean view of the global surface warming hiatus. Oceanography. 31:72-79.   10.5670/oceanog.2018.217   AbstractWebsite

The rate of global mean surface temperature increase slowed during 1998-2012. We review oceanic changes during this global warming hiatus from different but related perspectives. In one perspective, we explore the physical mechanisms for sea surface temperature patterns and highlight the role of natural variability, particularly the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) that both have chaotic/random phases. In the other perspective, we investigate how the hiatus relates to changes in energy fluxes at the top of the atmosphere and to the three-dimensional distribution of ocean heat content change on decadal timescales. We find that the recent surface warming hiatus is associated with a transition of the IPO from a positive to negative phase and with heat redistribution between the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans. The AMO has shifted to a positive phase since the late 1990s, inducing a La Nina-type response over the tropical Pacific via a tropic-wide teleconnection, contributing to the global warming hiatus.

Collins, M, Minobe S, Barreiro M, Bordoni S, Kaspi Y, Kuwano-Yoshida A, Keenlyside N, Manzini E, O'Reilly CH, Sutton R, Xie SP, Zolina O.  2018.  Challenges and opportunities for improved understanding of regional climate dynamics. Nature Climate Change. 8:101-108.   10.1038/s41558-017-0059-8   AbstractWebsite

Dynamical processes in the atmosphere and ocean are central to determining the large-scale drivers of regional climate change, yet their predictive understanding is poor. Here, we identify three frontline challenges in climate dynamics where significant progress can be made to inform adaptation: response of storms, blocks and jet streams to external forcing; basin-to-basin and tropical-extratropical teleconnections; and the development of non-linear predictive theory. We highlight opportunities and techniques for making immediate progress in these areas, which critically involve the development of high-resolution coupled model simulations, partial coupling or pacemaker experiments, as well as the development and use of dynamical metrics and exploitation of hierarchies of models.

2016
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

2015
Yang, Y, Xie SP, Wu LX, Kosaka Y, Lau NC, Vecchi GA.  2015.  Seasonality and predictability of the Indian Ocean Dipole Mode: ENSO forcing and internal variability. Journal of Climate. 28:8021-8036.   10.1175/jcli-d-15-0078.1   AbstractWebsite

This study evaluates the relative contributions to the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) mode of interannual variability from the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forcing and ocean-atmosphere feedbacks internal to the Indian Ocean. The ENSO forcing and internal variability is extracted by conducting a 10-member coupled simulation for 1950-2012 where sea surface temperature (SST) is restored to the observed anomalies over the tropical Pacific but interactive with the atmosphere over the rest of the World Ocean. In these experiments, the ensemble mean is due to ENSO forcing and the intermember difference arises from internal variability of the climate system independent of ENSO. These elements contribute one-third and two-thirds of the total IOD variance, respectively. Both types of IOD variability develop into an east-west dipole pattern because of Bjerknes feedback and peak in September-November. The ENSO forced and internal IOD modes differ in several important ways. The forced IOD mode develops in August with a broad meridional pattern and eventually evolves into the Indian Ocean basin mode, while the internal IOD mode grows earlier in June, is more confined to the equator, and decays rapidly after October. The internal IOD mode is more skewed than the ENSO forced response. The destructive interference of ENSO forcing and internal variability can explain early terminating IOD events, referred to as IOD-like perturbations that fail to grow during boreal summer. The results have implications for predictability. Internal variability, as represented by preseason sea surface height anomalies off Sumatra, contributes to predictability considerably. Including this indicator of internal variability, together with ENSO, improves the predictability of IOD.

2014
Zhou, ZQ, Xie SP, Zheng XT, Liu QY, Wang H.  2014.  Global warming-induced changes in El Nino teleconnections over the North Pacific and North America. Journal of Climate. 27:9050-9064.   10.1175/jcli-d-14-00254.1   AbstractWebsite

El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) induces climate anomalies around the globe. Atmospheric general circulation model simulations are used to investigate how ENSO-induced teleconnection patterns during boreal winter might change in response to global warming in the Pacific-North American sector. As models disagree on changes in the amplitude and spatial pattern of ENSO in response to global warming, for simplicity the same sea surface temperature (SST) pattern of ENSO is prescribed before and after the climate warming. In a warmer climate, precipitation anomalies intensify and move eastward over the equatorial Pacific during El Nino because the enhanced mean SST warming reduces the barrier to deep convection in the eastern basin. Associated with the eastward shift of tropical convective anomalies, the ENSO-forced Pacific-North American (PNA) teleconnection pattern moves eastward and intensifies under the climate warming. By contrast, the PNA mode of atmospheric internal variability remains largely unchanged in pattern, suggesting the importance of tropical convection in shifting atmospheric teleconnections. As the ENSO-induced PNA pattern shifts eastward, rainfall anomalies are expected to intensify on the west coast of North America, and the El Nino-induced surface warming to expand eastward and occupy all of northern North America. The spatial pattern of the mean SST warming affects changes in ENSO teleconnections. The teleconnection changes are larger with patterned mean warming than in an idealized case where the spatially uniform warming is prescribed in the mean state. The results herein suggest that the eastward-shifted PNA pattern is a robust change to be expected in the future, independent of the uncertainty in changes of ENSO itself.

Richter, I, Behera SK, Doi T, Taguchi B, Masumoto Y, Xie SP.  2014.  What controls equatorial Atlantic winds in boreal spring? Climate Dynamics. 43:3091-3104.   10.1007/s00382-014-2170-0   AbstractWebsite

The factors controlling equatorial Atlantic winds in boreal spring are examined using both observations and general circulation model (GCM) simulations from the coupled model intercomparison phase 5. The results show that the prevailing surface easterlies flow against the attendant pressure gradient and must therefore be maintained by other terms in the momentum budget. An important contribution comes from meridional advection of zonal momentum but the dominant contribution is the vertical transport of zonal momentum from the free troposphere to the surface. This implies that surface winds are strongly influenced by conditions in the free troposphere, chiefly pressure gradients and, to a lesser extent, meridional advection. Both factors are linked to the patterns of deep convection. Applying these findings to GCM errors indicates, that, consistent with the results of previous studies, the persistent westerly surface wind bias found in most GCMs is due mostly to precipitation errors, in particular excessive precipitation south of the equator over the ocean and deficient precipitation over equatorial South America. Free tropospheric influences also dominate the interannual variability of surface winds in boreal spring. GCM experiments with prescribed climatological sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) indicate that the free tropospheric influences are mostly associated with internal atmospheric variability. Since the surface wind anomalies in boreal spring are crucial to the development of warm SST events (Atlantic Ninos), the results imply that interannual variability in the region may rely far less on coupled air-sea feedbacks than is the case in the tropical Pacific.

Zinke, J, Rountrey A, Feng M, Xie SP, Dissard D, Rankenburg K, Lough JM, McCulloch MT.  2014.  Corals record long-term Leeuwin current variability including Ningaloo Nino/Nina since 1795. Nature Communications. 5   10.1038/ncomms4607   AbstractWebsite

Variability of the Leeuwin current (LC) off Western Australia is a footprint of interannual and decadal climate variations in the tropical Indo-Pacific. La Nina events often result in a strengthened LC, high coastal sea levels and unusually warm sea surface temperatures (SSTs), termed Ningaloo Nino. The rarity of such extreme events and the response of the southeastern Indian Ocean to regional and remote climate forcing are poorly understood owing to the lack of long-term records. Here we use well-replicated coral SST records from within the path of the LC, together with a reconstruction of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation to hindcast historical SST and LC strength from 1795 to 2010. We show that interannual and decadal variations in SST and LC strength characterized the past 215 years and that the most extreme sea level and SST anomalies occurred post 1980. These recent events were unprecedented in severity and are likely aided by accelerated global ocean warming and sea-level rise.

Long, SM, Xie SP, Zheng XT, Liu QY.  2014.  Fast and slow responses to global warming: Sea surface temperature and precipitation patterns. Journal of Climate. 27:285-299.   10.1175/jcli-d-13-00297.1   AbstractWebsite

The time-dependent response of sea surface temperature (SST) to global warming and the associated atmospheric changes are investigated based on a 1% yr(-1) CO2 increase to the quadrupling experiment of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Climate Model, version 2.1. The SST response consists of a fast component, for which the ocean mixed layer is in quasi equilibrium with the radiative forcing, and a slow component owing to the gradual warming of the deeper ocean in and beneath the thermocline. A diagnostic method is proposed to isolate spatial patterns of the fast and slow responses. The deep ocean warming retards the surface warming in the fast response but turns into a forcing for the slow response. As a result, the fast and slow responses are nearly opposite to each other in spatial pattern, especially over the subpolar North Atlantic/Southern Ocean regions of the deep-water/bottom-water formation, and in the interhemispheric SST gradient between the southern and northern subtropics. Wind-evaporation-SST feedback is an additional mechanism for the SST pattern formation in the tropics. Analyses of phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) multimodel ensemble of global warming simulations confirm the validity of the diagnostic method that separates the fast and slow responses. Tropical annual rainfall change follows the SST warming pattern in both the fast and slow responses in CMIP5, increasing where the SST increase exceeds the tropical mean warming.

2013
Li, JB, Xie SP, Cook ER, Morales MS, Christie DA, Johnson NC, Chen FH, D'Arrigo R, Fowler AM, Gou XH, Fang KY.  2013.  El Nino modulations over the past seven centuries. Nature Climate Change. 3:822-826.   10.1038/nclimate1936   AbstractWebsite

Predicting how the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) will change with global warming is of enormous importance to society(1-4). ENSO exhibits considerable natural variability at interdecadal-centennial timescales(5). Instrumental records are too short to determine whether ENSO has changed(6) and existing reconstructions are often developed without adequate tropical records. Here we present a seven-century-long ENSO reconstruction based on 2,222 tree-ring chronologies from both the tropics and mid-latitudes in both hemispheres. The inclusion of tropical records enables us to achieve unprecedented accuracy, as attested by high correlations with equatorial Pacific corals(7,8) and coherent modulation of global teleconnections that are consistent with an independent Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstruction(9). Our data indicate that ENSO activity in the late twentieth century was anomalously high over the past seven centuries, suggestive of a response to continuing global warming. Climate models disagree on the ENSO response to global warming(3,4), suggesting that many models underestimate the sensitivity to radiative perturbations. Illustrating the radiative effect, our reconstruction reveals a robust ENSO response to large tropical eruptions, with anomalous cooling in the east-central tropical Pacific in the year of eruption, followed by anomalous warming one year after. Our observations provide crucial constraints for improving climate models and their future projections.

2012
Chang, CH, Xie SP, Schneider N, Qiu B, Small J, Zhuang W, Taguchi B, Sasaki H, Lin XP.  2012.  East Pacific ocean eddies and their relationship to subseasonal variability in Central American wind jets. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans. 117   10.1029/2011jc007315   Abstract

Subseasonal variability in sea surface height (SSH) over the East Pacific warm pool off Central America is investigated using satellite observations and an eddy-resolving ocean general circulation model. SSH variability is organized into two southwest-tilted bands on the northwest flank of the Tehuantepec and Papagayo wind jets and collocated with the thermocline troughs. Eddy-like features of wavelength similar to 600 km propagate southwestward along the high-variance bands at a speed of 9-13 cm/s. Wind fluctuations are important for eddy formation in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, with a recurring interval of 40-90 days. When forced by satellite wind observations, the model reproduces the two high-variance bands and the phase propagation of the Tehuantepec eddies. Our observational analysis and model simulation suggest the following evolution of the Tehuantepec eddies. On the subseasonal timescale, in response to the gap wind intensification, a coastal anticyclonic eddy forms on the northwest flank of the wind jet and strengthens as it propagates offshore in the following two to three weeks. An energetics analysis based on the model simulation indicates that besides wind work, barotropic and baroclinic instabilities of the mean flow are important for the eddy growth. Both observational and model results suggest a re-intensification of the anticyclonic eddy in response to the subsequent wind jet event. Off Papagayo, ocean eddy formation is not well correlated with local wind jet variability. In both the Gulfs of Tehuantepec and Papagayo, subseasonal SSH variability is preferentially excited on the northwest flank of the wind jet. Factors for this asymmetry about the wind jet axis as well as the origins of wind jet variability are discussed.