Theses Doctoral

Asian summer monsoon response to greenhouse gases and anthropogenic aerosols

Li, Xiaoqiong

The Asian monsoon-affected area is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world facing hydroclimate changes. Anthropogenic climate change, particularly the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and aerosols, exerts significant impacts on monsoon rainfall and circulation. Understanding the effects of external forcing on monsoon rainfall is essential for improving the predictability, constraining the uncertainty, and assessing the climate risks. In this dissertation, I use a combination of observations, outputs from multiple Coupled Model Intercomparison Project - Phase 5 (CMIP5) models, and idealized atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) experiments to examine the Asian summer monsoon variability and change. The main focus is understanding the responses to GHGs and anthropogenic aerosols and their differences for both the historical period and future projections.
The Asian monsoon is an interactive system influenced by multiple natural and anthropogenic factors. GHGs and aerosols induce significantly different changes in monsoon rainfall through both thermodynamical and dynamical processes. These changes can be further separated into the fast adjustments related to radiation and cloud processes and the slow response due to changes in sea surface temperature (SST). This thesis provides a detailed analysis of the multiple physical processes entangled in the total response, advancing our mechanistic understanding of the effects of external forcing on the Asian monsoon system and the associated uncertainties.
In Chapter 2, I first analyze the monsoon-ENSO (El Nino - Southern Oscillation) relationship in observations and CMIP5 models to determine the role of natural variability. Separating the natural and forced components shows that natural variability plays a dominant role in the 20th century, however enhanced monsoon rainfall associated with global warming may contribute to a weakened ENSO-monsoon relation in the 21st century. In Chapter 3, I examine the physical mechanisms causing the changes of the Asian summer monsoon during the 20th and 21st century using observations and CMIP5 models, attributing the rainfall changes to the relative roles of thermodynamic and dynamic processes. CMIP5 models show a distinct drying of the Asian summer monsoon rainfall during the historical period but strong wetting for future projections, which can be explained by the strong aerosol-induced dynamical weakening during the 20th century and the thermodynamic enhancement due to GHGs in the 21st century.
In Chapters 4 and 5, I further use multiple AGCMs to separate the total monsoon response into a fast adjustment component independent of the sea surface temperature (SST) responses, and a slow response component associated with SST feedbacks. For GHGs (Chapter 4), the fast and slow monsoon circulation changes largely oppose each other, leading to an overall weak response and large inter-model spread. For aerosols (Chapter 5), the strongly weakened monsoon circulation over land due to aerosols is largely driven by the fast adjustments related to aerosol-radiation and aerosol-cloud interactions. Finally in Chapter 6, I design idealized AGCM experiments with prescribed SSTs using the Community Atmosphere Model (CAM5) and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory Model (GFDL-AM3) to investigate the relative roles of uniform SST warming/cooling as well as global and regional SST patterns in shaping the differing monsoon responses. While GHGs-induced SST changes affect the monsoon largely via the uniform warming effect, for aerosols the SST spatial pattern plays the dominant role through changes in atmospheric circulation.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Ting, Mingfang
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 18, 2018