Uncertainty in Climate Change Projections of the Hadley Circulation: The Role of Internal Variability

Kang, Sarah M.; Deser, Clara; Polvani, Lorenzo M.

The uncertainty arising from internal climate variability in climate change projections of the Hadley circulation (HC) is presently unknown. In this paper it is quantified by analyzing a 40-member ensemble of integrations of the Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3), under the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) A1B scenario over the period 2000–60. An additional set of 100-yr-long time-slice integrations with the atmospheric component of the same model [Community Atmosphere Model, version 3.0 (CAM3)] is also analyzed.
Focusing on simple metrics of the HC—its strength, width, and height—three key results emerge from the analysis of the CCSM3 ensemble. First, the projected weakening of the HC is almost entirely confined to the Northern Hemisphere, and is stronger in winter than in summer. Second, the projected widening of the HC occurs only in the winter season but in both hemispheres. Third, the projected rise of the tropical tropopause occurs in both hemispheres and in all seasons and is, by far, the most robust of the three metrics.
This paper shows further that uncertainty in future trends of the HC width is largely controlled by extratropical variability, while those of HC strength and height are associated primarily with tropical dynamics. Comparison of the CCSM3 and CAM3 integrations reveals that ocean–atmosphere coupling is the dominant source of uncertainty in future trends of HC strength and height and of the tropical mean meridional circulation in general. Finally, uncertainty in future trends of the hydrological cycle is largely captured by the uncertainty in future trends of the mean meridional circulation.


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Journal of Climate