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Concept: Troposphere


Recent boreal winters have exhibited a large-scale seesaw temperature pattern characterized by an unusually warm Arctic and cold continents. Whether there is any physical link between Arctic variability and Northern Hemisphere (NH) extreme weather is an active area of research. Using a recently developed index of severe winter weather, we show that the occurrence of severe winter weather in the United States is significantly related to anomalies in pan-Arctic geopotential heights and temperatures. As the Arctic transitions from a relatively cold state to a warmer one, the frequency of severe winter weather in mid-latitudes increases through the transition. However, this relationship is strongest in the eastern US and mixed to even opposite along the western US. We also show that during mid-winter to late-winter of recent decades, when the Arctic warming trend is greatest and extends into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere, severe winter weather-including both cold spells and heavy snows-became more frequent in the eastern United States.

Concepts: United States, Weather, Temperature, Season, Pacific Ocean, Canada, Troposphere, Winter solstice


We perform a multimodel detection and attribution study with climate model simulation output and satellite-based measurements of tropospheric and stratospheric temperature change. We use simulation output from 20 climate models participating in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. This multimodel archive provides estimates of the signal pattern in response to combined anthropogenic and natural external forcing (the fingerprint) and the noise of internally generated variability. Using these estimates, we calculate signal-to-noise (S/N) ratios to quantify the strength of the fingerprint in the observations relative to fingerprint strength in natural climate noise. For changes in lower stratospheric temperature between 1979 and 2011, S/N ratios vary from 26 to 36, depending on the choice of observational dataset. In the lower troposphere, the fingerprint strength in observations is smaller, but S/N ratios are still significant at the 1% level or better, and range from three to eight. We find no evidence that these ratios are spuriously inflated by model variability errors. After removing all global mean signals, model fingerprints remain identifiable in 70% of the tests involving tropospheric temperature changes. Despite such agreement in the large-scale features of model and observed geographical patterns of atmospheric temperature change, most models do not replicate the size of the observed changes. On average, the models analyzed underestimate the observed cooling of the lower stratosphere and overestimate the warming of the troposphere. Although the precise causes of such differences are unclear, model biases in lower stratospheric temperature trends are likely to be reduced by more realistic treatment of stratospheric ozone depletion and volcanic aerosol forcing.

Concepts: Climate, Climate change, Atmosphere, Ozone depletion, Stratosphere, Troposphere, Ozone layer, Ozone


Since the late 1970s, satellite-based instruments have monitored global changes in atmospheric temperature. These measurements reveal multidecadal tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling, punctuated by short-term volcanic signals of reverse sign. Similar long- and short-term temperature signals occur in model simulations driven by human-caused changes in atmospheric composition and natural variations in volcanic aerosols. Most previous comparisons of modeled and observed atmospheric temperature changes have used results from individual models and individual observational records. In contrast, we rely on a large multimodel archive and multiple observational datasets. We show that a human-caused latitude/altitude pattern of atmospheric temperature change can be identified with high statistical confidence in satellite data. Results are robust to current uncertainties in models and observations. Virtually all previous research in this area has attempted to discriminate an anthropogenic signal from internal variability. Here, we present evidence that a human-caused signal can also be identified relative to the larger “total” natural variability arising from sources internal to the climate system, solar irradiance changes, and volcanic forcing. Consistent signal identification occurs because both internal and total natural variability (as simulated by state-of-the-art models) cannot produce sustained global-scale tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling. Our results provide clear evidence for a discernible human influence on the thermal structure of the atmosphere.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Observation, Gas, Atmosphere, Venus, Stratosphere, Troposphere


This study investigates the role of the eleven-year solar cycle on the Arctic climate during 1979-2016. It reveals that during those years, when the winter solar sunspot number (SSN) falls below 1.35 standard deviations (or mean value), the Arctic warming extends from the lower troposphere to high up in the upper stratosphere and vice versa when SSN is above. The warming in the atmospheric column reflects an easterly zonal wind anomaly consistent with warm air and positive geopotential height anomalies for years with minimum SSN and vice versa for the maximum. Despite the inherent limitations of statistical techniques, three different methods - Compositing, Multiple Linear Regression and Correlation - all point to a similar modulating influence of the sun on winter Arctic climate via the pathway of Arctic Oscillation. Presenting schematics, it discusses the mechanisms of how solar cycle variability influences the Arctic climate involving the stratospheric route. Compositing also detects an opposite solar signature on Eurasian snow-cover, which is a cooling during Minimum years, while warming in maximum. It is hypothesized that the reduction of ice in the Arctic and a growth in Eurasia, in recent winters, may in part, be a result of the current weaker solar cycle.

Concepts: Statistics, Sun, Standard deviation, Atmosphere, Meteorology, Stratosphere, Troposphere, Ozone layer


We carried out upper air measurements with radiosondes during the summer over the Arctic Ocean from an icebreaker moving poleward from an ice-free region, through the ice edge, and into a region of thick ice. Rapid warming of the Arctic is a significant environmental issue that occurs not only at the surface but also throughout the troposphere. In addition to the widely accepted mechanisms responsible for the increase of tropospheric warming during the summer over the Arctic, we showed a new potential contributing process to the increase, based on our direct observations and supporting numerical simulations and statistical analyses using a long-term reanalysis dataset. We refer to this new process as “Siberian Atmospheric Rivers (SARs)”. Poleward upglides of SARs over cold air domes overlying sea ice provide the upper atmosphere with extra heat via condensation of water vapour. This heating drives increased buoyancy and further strengthens the ascent and heating of the mid-troposphere. This process requires the combination of SARs and sea ice as a land-ocean-atmosphere system, the implication being that large-scale heat and moisture transport from the lower latitudes can remotely amplify the warming of the Arctic troposphere in the summer.

Concepts: Water, Climate, Water vapor, Atmosphere, Arctic Ocean, Troposphere, Arctic Circle, Atmospheric thermodynamics


Tropopause temperatures (TPTs) control the amount of stratospheric water vapour, which influences chemistry, radiation and circulation in the stratosphere, and is also an important driver of surface climate. Decadal variability and long-term trends in tropical TPTs as well as stratospheric water vapour are largely unknown. Here, we present for the first time evidence, from reanalysis and state-of-the-art climate model simulations, of a link between decadal variability in tropical TPTs and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The negative phase of the PDO is associated with anomalously cold sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the tropical east and central Pacific, which enhance the zonal SST gradient across the equatorial Pacific. The latter drives a stronger Walker Circulation and a weaker Hadley Circulation, which leads to less convection and subsequently a warmer tropopause over the central equatorial Pacific. Over the North Pacific, positive sea level pressure anomalies occur, which damp vertical wave propagation into the stratosphere. This in turn slows the Brewer-Dobson circulation, and hence warms the tropical tropopause, enabling more water vapour to enter the stratosphere. The reverse chain of events holds for the positive phase of the PDO. Such ocean-troposphere-stratosphere interactions may provide an important feedback on the Earth’s global surface temperature.

Concepts: Earth, Heat, Gas, Atmosphere, Ocean, Cold, Troposphere, Sea surface temperature


The observed presence of water vapor convectively injected deep into the stratosphere over the United States can fundamentally change the catalytic chlorine/bromine free-radical chemistry of the lower stratosphere by shifting total available inorganic chlorine into the catalytically active free-radical form, ClO. This chemical shift markedly affects total ozone loss rates and makes the catalytic system extraordinarily sensitive to convective injection into the mid-latitude lower stratosphere in summer. Were the intensity and frequency of convective injection to increase as a result of climate forcing by the continued addition of CO(2) and CH(4) to the atmosphere, increased risk of ozone loss and associated increases in ultraviolet dosage would follow.

Concepts: Oxygen, Hydrogen, Precipitation, Atmosphere, Ozone depletion, Troposphere, Ozone layer, Ozone


Air parcels with mixing ratios of high O3 and low H2O (HOLW) are common features in the tropical western Pacific (TWP) mid-troposphere (300-700 hPa). Here, using data collected during aircraft sampling of the TWP in winter 2014, we find strong, positive correlations of O3 with multiple biomass burning tracers in these HOLW structures. Ozone levels in these structures are about a factor of three larger than background. Models, satellite data and aircraft observations are used to show fires in tropical Africa and Southeast Asia are the dominant source of high O3 and that low H2O results from large-scale descent within the tropical troposphere. Previous explanations that attribute HOLW structures to transport from the stratosphere or mid-latitude troposphere are inconsistent with our observations. This study suggest a larger role for biomass burning in the radiative forcing of climate in the remote TWP than is commonly appreciated.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Atmosphere, Asia, Winter, Stratosphere, Troposphere, Ozone, Internal combustion engine


Growing body of literature has developed to detect the role of ocean heat uptake and transport in the recent warming slowdown between 1998-2013; however, the atmospheric footprint of the slowdown in dynamical and physical processes remains unclear. Here, we divided recent decades into the recent hiatus period and the preceding warming period (1983-1998) to investigate the atmospheric footprint. We use a process-resolving analysis method to quantify the contributions of different processes to the total temperature changes. We show that the increasing rate of global mean tropospheric temperature was also reduced during the hiatus period. The decomposed trends due to physical processes, including surface albedo, water vapour, cloud, surface turbulent fluxes and atmospheric dynamics, reversed the patterns between the two periods. The changes in atmospheric heat transport are coupled with changes in the surface latent heat flux across the lower troposphere (below approximately 800 hPa) and with cloud-related processes in the upper troposphere (above approximately 600 hPa) and were underpinned by strengthening/weakening Hadley Circulation and Walker Circulation during the warming/hiatus period. This dynamical coupling experienced a phase transition between the two periods, reminding us of the importance of understanding the atmospheric footprint, which constitutes an essential part of internal climate variability.

Concepts: Energy, Weather, Temperature, Thermodynamics, Heat, Water vapor, Troposphere, Atmospheric thermodynamics


The abundance of tropospheric oxidants, such as ozone (O3) and hydroxyl (OH) and peroxy radicals (HO2 + RO2), determines the lifetimes of reduced trace gases such as methane and the production of particulate matter important for climate and human health. The response of tropospheric oxidants to climate change is poorly constrained owing to large uncertainties in the degree to which processes that influence oxidants may change with climate and owing to a lack of palaeo-records with which to constrain levels of atmospheric oxidants during past climate transitions. At present, it is thought that temperature-dependent emissions of tropospheric O3 precursors and water vapour abundance determine the climate response of oxidants, resulting in lower tropospheric O3 in cold climates while HOx (= OH + HO2 + RO2) remains relatively buffered. Here we report observations of oxygen-17 excess of nitrate (a proxy for the relative abundance of atmospheric O3 and HOx) from a Greenland ice core over the most recent glacial-interglacial cycle and for two Dansgaard-Oeschger events. We find that tropospheric oxidants are sensitive to climate change with an increase in the O3/HOx ratio in cold climates, the opposite of current expectations. We hypothesize that the observed increase in O3/HOx in cold climates is driven by enhanced stratosphere-to-troposphere transport of O3, and that reactive halogen chemistry is also enhanced in cold climates. Reactive halogens influence the oxidative capacity of the troposphere directly as oxidants themselves and indirectly via their influence on O3 and HOx. The strength of stratosphere-to-troposphere transport is largely controlled by the Brewer-Dobson circulation, which may be enhanced in colder climates owing to a stronger meridional gradient of sea surface temperatures, with implications for the response of tropospheric oxidants and stratospheric thermal and mass balance. These two processes may represent important, yet relatively unexplored, climate feedback mechanisms during major climate transitions.

Concepts: Oxygen, Precipitation, Climate, Weather, Water vapor, Atmosphere, Stratosphere, Troposphere