Western and Central tropical Pacific rainfall response to climate change: Sensitivity to projected Sea Surface Temperature patterns

Type Article
Date 2022-09
Language English
Author(s) Dutheil C1, Lengaigne Matthieu2, Vialard J3, Jullien SwenORCID5, Menkes C4
Affiliation(s) 1 : Department of Physical Oceanography and Instrumentation, Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde, Rostock, Germany
2 : MARBEC, University of Montpellier, CNRS, IFREMER, IRD, Sète, France
3 : LOCEAN-IPSL, Sorbonne Université, CNRS, IRD, MNHN, Paris, France
4 : ENTROPIE , IRD, Univ. de la Nouvelle Calédonie, Univ. de la Réunion, CNRS, Ifremer, Nouméa, Nouvelle-Calédonie
5 : Ifremer, University of Brest, CNRS, IRD, Laboratoire d’Océanographie Physique et Spatiale (LOPS), IUEM, Plouzané, France
Source Journal Of Climate (0894-8755) (American Meteorological Society), 2022-09 , Vol. 35 , N. 18 , P. 6175-6189
DOI 10.1175/JCLI-D-22-0062.1
Keyword(s) Precipitation, Sea surface temperature, Climate change, Hydrologic cycle, Climate models, Regional models

Rainfall projections from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) models are strongly tied to projected Sea Surface Temperature (SST) spatial patterns through the “warmer-gets-wetter” mechanism. While these models consistently project an enhanced equatorial warming they however indicate much more uncertain changes in zonal SST gradients. That translates into large uncertainties on rainfall projections. Here, we force an atmospheric model with synthetic SSTs whose zonal SST gradient changes span the range of CMIP5 uncertainties in the presence and in the absence of the robust equatorially enhanced warming. Our results confirm that projected rainfall changes are dominated by the effect of circulation changes, which are tied to SST through the “warmer-gets-wetter” mechanism. We show that SPCZ rainfall changes are entirely driven by the uncertain zonal SST gradient changes. The western equatorial Pacific rainfall increase is largely controlled by the robust enhanced equatorial warming for modest zonal SST gradient changes. However, for larger values, the effect of the zonal SST gradient change on rainfall projections becomes dominant due to nonlinear interactions with the enhanced equatorial warming. Overall, our study demonstrates that uncertainties in the zonal SST gradient changes strongly contribute to uncertainties in rainfall projections over both the South Pacific Convergence Zone and western equatorial Pacific. It is thus critical to reduce these uncertainties to produce more robust precipitation estimates.

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