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Energetic constraints on the pattern of changes to the hydrological cycle under global warming
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  • David Bonan,
  • Nicholas Siler,
  • Gerard Roe,
  • Kyle Armour
David Bonan
California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology

Corresponding Author:dbonan@caltech.edu

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Nicholas Siler
Oregon State University, Oregon State University
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Gerard Roe
University of Washington, University of Washington
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Kyle Armour
University of Washington, University of Washington
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The response of precipitation minus evaporation (P-E) to global warming is investigated using a moist energy balance model (MEBM) with a simple Hadley-Cell parameterization. The MEBM accurately emulates P-E changes simulated by a suite of global climate models (GCMs) under greenhouse-gas forcing. The MEBM also accounts for most of the intermodel differences in GCM P-E changes and better emulates GCM P-E changes when compared to the “wet-gets-wetter, dry-gets-drier” thermodynamic mechanism. The intermodel spread in P-E changes are attributed to intermodel differences in radiative feedbacks, which account for 60-70% of the intermodel variance, with smaller contributions from radiative forcing and ocean heat uptake. Isolating the intermodel spread of feedbacks to specific regions shows that tropical feedbacks are the primary source of intermodel spread in P-E changes. The ability of the MEBM to emulate GCM P-E changes is further investigated using idealized feedback patterns. A less negative and narrowly peaked feedback pattern near the equator results in more atmospheric heating, which strengthens the Hadley Cell circulation in the deep tropics through an enhanced poleward heat flux. This pattern also increases gross moist stability, which weakens the subtropical Hadley Cell circulation. These two processes in unison increase P-E in the deep tropics, decrease P-E in the subtropics, and narrow the Intertropical Convergence Zone. Additionally, a feedback pattern that produces polar-amplified warming reduces the poleward moisture flux by weakening the meridional temperature gradient and the Clausius-Clapeyron relation. It is shown that changes to the Hadley Cell circulation and the poleward moisture flux are crucial for understanding the pattern of GCM P-E changes under warming.