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Resolving weather fronts increases the large-scale circulation response to Gulf Stream SST anomalies in variable-resolution CESM2 simulations
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  • Robert C. Jnglin Wills,
  • Adam R Herrington,
  • Isla Ruth Simpson,
  • David S. Battisti
Robert C. Jnglin Wills
ETH Zurich

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Adam R Herrington
National Center for Atmospheric Research
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Isla Ruth Simpson
National Center for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)
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David S. Battisti
University of Washington
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Canonical understanding based on general circulation models (GCMs) is that the atmospheric circulation response to midlatitude sea-surface temperature (SST) anomalies is weak compared to the larger influence of tropical SST anomalies. However, the horizontal resolution of modern GCMs, ranging from roughly 300 km to 25 km, is too coarse to fully resolve mesoscale atmospheric processes such as weather fronts. Here, we investigate the large-scale atmospheric circulation response to idealized Gulf Stream SST anomalies in Community Atmosphere Model (CAM6) simulations with 14-km regional grid refinement over the North Atlantic, and compare it to the response in simulations with 28-km regional refinement and uniform 111-km resolution. The highest resolution simulations show a large positive response of the wintertime North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) to positive SST anomalies in the Gulf Stream, a 0.8-standard-deviation anomaly in the seasonal-mean NAO for 2°C SST anomalies. The lower-resolution simulations show a weaker response with a different spatial structure. The enhanced large-scale circulation response results from an increase in resolved vertical motions with resolution and an associated increase in the influence of SST anomalies on transient-eddy heat and momentum fluxes in the free troposphere. In response to positive SST anomalies, these processes lead to a stronger North Atlantic jet that varies less in latitude, as is characteristic of positive NAO anomalies. Our results suggest that the atmosphere responds differently to midlatitude SST anomalies in higher-resolution models and that regional refinement in key regions offers a potential pathway to improve multi-year regional climate predictions based on midlatitude SSTs.
21 Nov 2023Submitted to ESS Open Archive
22 Nov 2023Published in ESS Open Archive