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A New Look at Stratospheric Sudden Warmings. Part II: Evaluation of Numerical Model Simulations

Charlton, Andrew J.; Polvani, Lorenzo M.; Perlwitz, Judith; Sassi, Fabrizio; Manzini, Elisa; Pawson, Steven; Shibata, Kiyotaka; Nielsen, J. Eric; Rind, David

The simulation of major midwinter stratospheric sudden warmings (SSWs) in six stratosphere-resolving general circulation models (GCMs) is examined. The GCMs are compared to a new climatology of SSWs, based on the dynamical characteristics of the events. First, the number, type, and temporal distribution of SSW events are evaluated. Most of the models show a lower frequency of SSW events than the climatology, which has a mean frequency of 6.0 SSWs per decade. Statistical tests show that three of the six models produce significantly fewer SSWs than the climatology, between 1.0 and 2.6 SSWs per decade. Second, four process-based diagnostics are calculated for all of the SSW events in each model. It is found that SSWs in the GCMs compare favorably with dynamical benchmarks for SSW established in the first part of the study.
These results indicate that GCMs are capable of quite accurately simulating the dynamics required to produce SSWs, but with lower frequency than the climatology. Further dynamical diagnostics hint that, in at least one case, this is due to a lack of meridional heat flux in the lower stratosphere. Even though the SSWs simulated by most GCMs are dynamically realistic when compared to the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis, the reasons for the relative paucity of SSWs in GCMs remains an important and open question.


Also Published In

Journal of Climate