Climate Dynamics Group
at the University of California, Santa Cruz

Changes in poleward atmospheric energy transport over a wide range of climates: Energetic and diffusive perspectives and a priori theories

research paper
  • Timothy Merlis (McGill)
  • Nicole Feldl
  • Rodrigo Caballero (Stockholm University)
updates ↓

12/31/22 Merlis, T. M., N. Feldl, and R. Caballero (2022), Journal of Climate, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-21-0682.1.

The midlatitude poleward atmospheric energy transport increases in radiatively forced simulations of warmed climates across a range of models from comprehensive coupled general circulation models (GCMs) to idealized aquaplanet moist GCMs to diffusive moist energy balance models. These increases have been rationalized from two perspectives. The energetic (or radiative) perspective takes the atmospheric energy budget and decomposes energy flux changes (radiative forcing, feedbacks, or surface fluxes) to determine the energy transport changes required by the budget. The diffusive perspective takes the net effect of atmospheric macroturbulence to be a diffusive energy transport down-gradient, so transport changes can arise from changes in mean energy gradients or turbulent diffusivity. Here, we compare these perspectives in idealized moist, gray-radiation GCM simulations over a wide range of climates. The energetic perspective has a dominant role for radiative forcing in this GCM, with cancellation between the temperature feedback components that account for the GCM’s non-monotonic energy transport changes in response to warming. Comprehensive CMIP5 simulations have similarities in the northern hemisphere to the idealized GCM, though a comprehensive GCM over several CO2 doublings has a distinctly different feedback evolution structure. The diffusive perspective requires a non-constant diffusivity to account for the idealized GCM-simulated changes, with important roles for the eddy velocity, dry static stability, and horizontal energy gradients. Beyond diagnostic analysis, GCM-independent a priori theories for components of the temperature feedback are presented that account for changes without knowledge of a perturbed climate state, suggesting that the energetic perspective is the more parsimonious one.