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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.

Kang, SM, Xie SP.  2014.  Dependence of climate response on meridional structure of external thermal forcing. Journal of Climate. 27:5593-5600.   10.1175/jcli-d-13-00622.1   AbstractWebsite

This study shows that the magnitude of global surface warming greatly depends on the meridional distribution of surface thermal forcing. An atmospheric model coupled to an aquaplanet slab mixed layer ocean is perturbed by prescribing heating to the ocean mixed layer. The heating is distributed uniformly globally or confined to narrow tropical or polar bands, and the amplitude is adjusted to ensure that the global mean remains the same for all cases. Since the tropical temperature is close to a moist adiabat, the prescribed heating leads to a maximized warming near the tropopause, whereas the polar warming is trapped near the surface because of strong atmospheric stability. Hence, the surface warming is more effectively damped by radiation in the tropics than in the polar region. As a result, the global surface temperature increase is weak (strong) when the given amount of heating is confined to the tropical (polar) band. The degree of this contrast is shown to depend on water vapor- and cloud-radiative feedbacks that alter the effective strength of prescribed thermal forcing.

Liu, W, Lu J, Xie SP, Fedorov A.  2018.  Southern Ocean heat uptake, redistribution, and storage in a warming climate: The role of meridional overturning circulation. Journal of Climate. 31:4727-4743.   10.1175/jcli-d-17-0761.1   AbstractWebsite

Climate models show that most of the anthropogenic heat resulting from increased atmospheric CO2 enters the Southern Ocean near 60 degrees S and is stored around 45 degrees S. This heat is transported to the ocean interior by the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) with wind changes playing an important role in the process. To isolate and quantify the latter effect, we apply an overriding technique to a climate model and decompose the total ocean response to CO2 increase into two major components: one due to wind changes and the other due to direct CO2 effect. We find that the poleward-intensified zonal surface winds tend to shift and strengthen the ocean Deacon cell and hence the residual MOC, leading to anomalous divergence of ocean meridional heat transport around 60 degrees S coupled to a surface heat flux increase. In contrast, at 45 degrees S we see anomalous convergence of ocean heat transport and heat loss at the surface. As a result, the wind-induced ocean heat storage (OHS) peaks at 46 degrees S at a rate of 0.07 ZJ yr(-1) (degrees lat)(-1) (1 ZJ = 10(21) J), contributing 20% to the total OHS maximum. The direct CO2 effect, on the other hand, very slightly alters the residual MOC but primarily warms the ocean. It induces a small but nonnegligible change in eddy heat transport and causes OHS to peak at 42 degrees S at a rate of 0.30 ZJ yr(-1) (degrees lat)(-1), accounting for 80% of the OHS maximum. We also find that the eddy-induced MOC weakens, primarily caused by a buoyancy flux change as a result of the direct CO2 effect, and does not compensate the intensified Deacon cell.

Tokinaga, H, Xie SP, Deser C, Kosaka Y, Okumura YM.  2012.  Slowdown of the Walker circulation driven by tropical Indo-Pacific warming. Nature. 491:439-+.   10.1038/nature11576   Abstract

Global mean sea surface temperature (SST) has risen steadily over the past century(1,2), but the overall pattern contains extensive and often uncertain spatial variations, with potentially important effects on regional precipitation(3,4). Observations suggest a slowdown of the zonal atmospheric overturning circulation above the tropical Pacific Ocean (the Walker circulation) over the twentieth century(1,5). Although this change has been attributed to a muted hydrological cycle forced by global warming(5,6), the effect of SST warming patterns has not been explored and quantified(1,7,8). Here we perform experiments using an atmospheric model, and find that SST warming patterns are the main cause of the weakened Walker circulation over the past six decades (1950-2009). The SST trend reconstructed from bucket-sampled SST and night-time marine surface air temperature features a reduced zonal gradient in the tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean, a change consistent with subsurface temperature observations(8). Model experiments with this trend pattern robustly simulate the observed changes, including the Walker circulation slowdown and the eastward shift of atmospheric convection from the Indonesian maritime continent to the central tropical Pacific. Our results cannot establish whether the observed changes are due to natural variability or anthropogenic global warming, but they do show that the observed slowdown in the Walker circulation is presumably driven by oceanic rather than atmospheric processes.

Wang, H, Xie SP, Tokinaga H, Liu Q, Kosaka Y.  2016.  Detecting cross-equatorial wind change as a fingerprint of climate response to anthropogenic aerosol forcing. Geophysical Research Letters. 43:3444-3450.   10.1002/2016gl068521   AbstractWebsite

Anthropogenic aerosols are amajor driver of the twetieth century climate change. In climate models, the aerosol forcing, larger in the Northern than Southern Hemispheres, induces an interhemispheric Hadley circulation. In support of the model result, we detected a robust change in the zonal mean cross-equatorial wind over the past 60 years from ship observations and reanalyses, accompanied by physically consistent changes in atmospheric pressure and marine cloud cover. Single-forcing experiments indicate that the observed change in cross-equatorial wind is a fingerprint of aerosol forcing. This zonal mean mode follows the evolution of global aerosol forcing that is distinct from regional changes in the Atlantic sector. Atmospheric simulations successfully reproduce this interhemispheric mode, indicating the importance of sea surface temperature mediation in response to anthropogenic aerosol forcing. As societies awaken to reduce aerosol emissions, a phase reversal of this interhemispheric mode is expected in the 21st century.