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Zheng, XT, Hui C, Xie SP, Cai WJ, Long SM.  2019.  Intensification of El Nino Rainfall Variability Over the Tropical Pacific in the Slow Oceanic Response to Global Warming. Geophysical Research Letters. 46:2253-2260.   10.1029/2018gl081414   AbstractWebsite

Changes in rainfall variability of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) are investigated under scenarios where the greenhouse gases increase and then stabilize. During the period of increasing greenhouse forcing, the ocean mixed layer warms rapidly. After the forcing stabilizes, the deeper ocean continues to warm the surface (the slow response). We show that ENSO rainfall variability over the tropical Pacific intensifies in both periods but the rate of increase per degree global mean surface temperature (GMST) warming is larger for the slow response because of greater relative warming in the base state as the mean upwelling changes from a damping to a driver of the surface warming. Our results have important implications for climate extremes under GMST stabilization that the Paris Agreement calls for. To stabilize GMST, the fast surface cooling offsets the slow warming from the prior greenhouse gas increase, while ENSO rainfall variability would continue to increase. Plain Language Summary The Paris Agreement calls for limiting global mean surface temperature increase to well below 2 degrees at the end of the 21st century. This requires the greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration to peak and subsequently decline in the next few decades. After the GHG concentration peak, the heat accumulated in the ocean surface layer continues to penetrate to the deeper ocean. This deeper ocean warming leads to a slow response of surface warming, further influencing the climate system. This study examines scenarios where GHGs increase and then stabilize to isolate the fast and slow responses of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) rainfall variability. We find intensification of ENSO rainfall variability both during the increase and after stabilization of GHG concentrations due to a persistent El Nino-like mean warming pattern in the tropical Pacific. Furthermore, for unit global mean surface temperature increase, the changes in the mean state temperature and ENSO rainfall variability in the eastern equatorial Pacific is larger during the slow response. These results imply that there is a need for GHG emission reduction in the near future to avoid more extreme tropical rainfall during El Nino.

Li, JB, Xie SP, Cook ER, Chen FH, Shi JF, Zhang DD, Fang KY, Gou XH, Li T, Peng JF, Shi SY, Zhao YS.  2019.  Deciphering human contributions to Yellow River flow reductions and downstream drying using centuries-long tree ring records. Geophysical Research Letters. 46:898-905.   10.1029/2018gl081090   AbstractWebsite

The Yellow River flow has decreased substantially in recent decades, and the river often dried up in the lower reach and failed to reach the sea. Climate change and human disruption have been suggested as major causes of the flow reduction, but quantification of their relative contribution is challenging due to limited instrumental records and disturbance by dams. Here we use a basin-wide tree ring network to reconstruct the Yellow River flow for the past 1,200 years and show that the flow exhibits marked amplitude variations that are closely coupled to the hydrological mean state swings at multidecadal to centennial timescales. Recent flow should have increased to the highest level of the past 1,200 years if there were no human disruption. However, human activities have caused a loss of nearly half of natural flow since the late 1960s and are the main culprit for recent downstream flow reduction. Plain Language Summary Recent Yellow River flow reductions have had major impacts on China's economy and water policy. The short and heavily human-modified gauge records are unable to reveal natural flow variability now and in the past. Here we use tree rings to reconstruct long-term Yellow River flow, which enables an assessment of natural flow variability and the detection of human contributions to recent flow reductions. Our 1,200-year reconstruction reveals that under natural conditions the Yellow River flow should have increased markedly since the early twentieth century. However, the observed flow decreased since the late 1960s and such a decrease must be predominately caused by human interventions instead of climate change.

Lin, L, Xu YY, Wang ZL, Diao CR, Dong WJ, Xie SP.  2018.  Changes in extreme rainfall over India and China attributed to regional aerosol-cloud interaction during the late 20th century rapid industrialization. Geophysical Research Letters. 45:7857-7865.   10.1029/2018gl078308   AbstractWebsite

Both mean and extreme rainfall decreased over India and Northern China during 1979-2005 at a rate of 0.2%/decade. The aerosol dampening effects on rainfall has also been suggested as a main driver of mean rainfall shift in India and China. Conflicting views, however, exist on whether aerosols enhance or suppress hazardous extreme heavy rainfall. Using Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) multimodel ensemble, here we show that only a subset of models realistically reproduces the late-20th-century trend of extreme rainfall for the three major regions in Asia: drying in India and Northern China and wetting in Southern China, all consistent with mean rainfall change. As a common feature, this subset of models includes an explicit treatment of the complex physical processes of aerosol-cloud interaction (i.e., both cloud-albedo and cloud-lifetime effects), while simulation performance deteriorates in models that include only aerosol direct effect or cloud-albedo effect. The enhanced aerosol pollution during this rapid industrialization era is the leading cause of the spatially heterogeneous extreme rainfall change by dimming surface solar radiation, cooling adjacent ocean water, and weakening moisture transport into the continental region, while GHG warming or natural variability alone cannot explain the observed changes. Our results indicate that the projected intensification of regional extreme rainfall during the early-to-mid 21st-century, in response to the anticipated aerosol reduction, may be underestimated in global climate models without detailed treatment of complex aerosol-cloud interaction. Plain Language Summary Over Asia, a robust pattern of drying-wetting-drying trend over three most populated regions (India, South China, and North China, respectively) have been observed in the past few decades. Yet the cause of the 30-year trend is rather unclear, with conflicting arguments on the importance of natural variability, the greenhouse gas, land cover, and aerosols. Most of the previous studies, however, fail to provide a holistic explanation for all three major regions simultaneously. The aerosol-cloud interaction-induced oceanic cooling, as we show here, provides a critical piece in reproducing the past trend. Only a fraction of climate models with complex treatment of aerosol-cloud interaction capture the observed pattern; thus, unconstrained model data set provides biased outlook of extreme rainfall in this region.

Biasutti, M, Voigt A, Boos WR, Braconnot P, Hargreaves JC, Harrison SP, Kang SM, Mapes BE, Scheff J, Schumacher C, Sobel AH, Xie SP.  2018.  Global energetics and local physics as drivers of past, present and future monsoons. Nature Geoscience. 11:392-+.   10.1038/s41561-018-0137-1   AbstractWebsite

Global constraints on momentum and energy govern the variability of the rainfall belt in the intertropical convergence zone and the structure of the zonal mean tropical circulation. The continental-scale monsoon systems are also facets of a momentumand energy-constrained global circulation, but their modern and palaeo variability deviates substantially from that of the intertropical convergence zone. The mechanisms underlying deviations from expectations based on the longitudinal mean budgets are neither fully understood nor simulated accurately. We argue that a framework grounded in global constraints on energy and momentum yet encompassing the complexities of monsoon dynamics is needed to identify the causes of the mismatch between theory, models and observations, and ultimately to improve regional climate projections. In a first step towards this goal, disparate regional processes must be distilled into gross measures of energy flow in and out of continents and between the surface and the tropopause, so that monsoon dynamics may be coherently diagnosed across modern and palaeo observations and across idealized and comprehensive simulations. Accounting for zonal asymmetries in the circulation, land/ocean differences in surface fluxes, and the character of convective systems, such a monsoon framework would integrate our understanding at all relevant scales: from the fine details of how moisture and energy are lifted in the updrafts of thunderclouds, up to the global circulations.