Interhemispheric aerosol radiative forcing and tropical precipitation shifts during the late Twentieth Century

TitleInterhemispheric aerosol radiative forcing and tropical precipitation shifts during the late Twentieth Century
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsAllen RJ, Evan AT, Booth B.BB
JournalJournal of Climate
Date Published2015/10
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0894-8755
Accession NumberWOS:000362661800021
Keywordsair-temperature; and modeling; atlantic; Atmospheric circulation; circulation; climate models; climate-change; dynamics; Hydrologic cycle; intertropical convergence zone; Model evaluation; models; ocean; performance; reanalysis project; sahel rainfall; sea-surface temperature; time scales; trends; tropical variability; variability

Through the latter half of the twentieth century, meridional shifts in tropical precipitation have been associated with severe droughts. Although linked to a variety of causes, the origin of these shifts remains elusive. Here, it is shown that they are unlikely to arise from internal variability of the climate system alone, as simulated by coupled ocean-atmosphere climate models. Similar to previous work, the authors find that anthropogenic and volcanic aerosols are the dominant drivers of simulated twentieth-century tropical precipitation shifts. Models that include the cloud-albedo and lifetime aerosol indirect effects yield significantly larger shifts than models that lack aerosol indirect effects and also reproduce most of the southward tropical precipitation shift in the Pacific. However, all models significantly underestimate the magnitude of the observed shifts in the Atlantic sector, unless driven by observed SSTs. Mechanistically, tropical precipitation shifts are driven by interhemispheric sea surface temperature variations, which are associated with hemispherically asymmetric changes in low-latitude surface pressure, winds, and low clouds, as well as the strength, location, and cross-equatorial energy transport of the Hadley cells. Models with a larger hemispheric aerosol radiative forcing gradient yield larger hemispheric temperature contrasts and, in turn, larger meridional precipitation shifts. The authors conclude that aerosols are likely the dominant driver of the observed southward tropical precipitation shift in the Pacific. Aerosols are also significant drivers of the Atlantic shifts, although one cannot rule out a contribution from natural variability to account for the magnitude of the observed shifts.

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