Sources and Impacts of Modeled and Observed Low-Frequency Climate Variability
AuthorParsons, Luke Alexander
AdvisorOverpeck, Jonathan T.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractHere we analyze climate variability using instrumental, paleoclimate (proxy), and the latest climate model data to understand more about the sources and impacts of low-frequency climate variability. Understanding the drivers of climate variability at interannual to century timescales is important for studies of climate change, including analyses of detection and attribution of climate change impacts. Additionally, correctly modeling the sources and impacts of variability is key to the simulation of abrupt change (Alley et al., 2003) and extended drought (Seager et al., 2005; Pelletier and Turcotte, 1997; Ault et al., 2014). In Appendix A, we employ an Earth system model (GFDL-ESM2M) simulation to study the impacts of a weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) on the climate of the American Tropics. The AMOC drives some degree of local and global internal low-frequency climate variability (Manabe and Stouffer, 1995; Thornalley et al., 2009) and helps control the position of the tropical rainfall belt (Zhang and Delworth, 2005). We find that a major weakening of the AMOC can cause large-scale temperature, precipitation, and carbon storage changes in Central and South America. Our results suggest that possible future changes in AMOC strength alone will not be sufficient to drive a large-scale dieback of the Amazonian forest, but this key natural ecosystem is sensitive to dry-season length and timing of rainfall (Parsons et al., 2014). In Appendix B, we compare a paleoclimate record of precipitation variability in the Peruvian Amazon to climate model precipitation variability. The paleoclimate (Lake Limón) record indicates that precipitation variability in western Amazonia is ‘red’ (i.e., increasing variability with timescale). By contrast, most state-of-the-art climate models indicate precipitation variability in this region is nearly'‘white' (i.e., equally variability across timescales). This paleo-model disagreement in the overall structure of the variance spectrum has important consequences for the probability of multi-year drought. Our lake record suggests there is a significant background threat of multi-year, and even decade-length, drought in western Amazonia, whereas climate model simulations indicate most droughts likely last no longer than one to three years. These findings suggest climate models may underestimate the future risk of extended drought in this important region. In Appendix C, we expand our analysis of climate variability beyond South America. We use observations, well-constrained tropical paleoclimate, and Earth system model data to examine the overall shape of the climate spectrum across interannual to century frequencies. We find a general agreement among observations and models that temperature variability increases with timescale across most of the globe outside the tropics. However, as compared to paleoclimate records, climate models generate too little low-frequency variability in the tropics (e.g., Laepple and Huybers, 2014). When we compare the shape of the simulated climate spectrum to the spectrum of a simple autoregressive process, we find much of the modeled surface temperature variability in the tropics could be explained by ocean smoothing of weather noise. Importantly, modeled precipitation tends to be similar to white noise across much of the globe. By contrast, paleoclimate records of various types from around the globe indicate that both temperature and precipitation variability should experience much more low-frequency variability than a simple autoregressive or white-noise process. In summary, state-of-the-art climate models generate some degree of dynamically driven low-frequency climate variability, especially at high latitudes. However, the latest climate models, observations, and paleoclimate data provide us with drastically different pictures of the background climate system and its associated risks. This research has important consequences for improving how we simulate climate extremes as we enter a warmer (and often drier) world in the coming centuries; if climate models underestimate low-frequency variability, we will underestimate the risk of future abrupt change and extreme events, such as megadroughts.
Degree ProgramGraduate College