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Observations of the tropical atmospheric water cycle and its variations with sea surface temperature using a constellation of satellites

Erik Höjgård-Olsen 1, 2
LATMOS - Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales
Abstract : The tropical atmosphere is a complex system of dynamic and thermodynamic processes. Superimposed on these complexities is a radiative forcing due to anthropogenically emitted greenhouse gases and a resulting global warming. Climate projections often assume that the feedback parameter is constant in time, so that changes in radiative flux are proportional to changes in surface temperature. Projection uncertainties are associated with the atmospheric water cycle’s response to surface warming, and motivate the need to better understand processes linking clouds, circulation of atmospheric water and climate.This work aims to improve our understanding of the covariability of sea surface temperature (SST), relative humidity (RH), clouds and precipitation, on different temporal and spatial scales in the tropical belt (30°N-30°S). It relies on a unique synergistic dataset of high vertical resolution that measures the daytime (01:30 pm) RH profile, cloud characteristics and near-surface precipitation provided by the microwave radiometer SAPHIR, the CALIOP lidar and the CPR radar. This dataset has a 1° by 1° horizontal resolution and covers the time period 2012 to 2018. It is associated to SST and atmospheric vertical velocity fields of the ERA5 reanalysis.The synergistic dataset was explored along two scientific questions:(i) The first question concerned the instantaneous timescale and the co-evolution of RH profiles, cloud cover and SST, under large-scale circulation constraint. To our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive observational view of the tropical atmospheric water cycle’s response to SST on the instantaneous timescale. Different physical relationships are established for the different large-scale circulation regimes, and their characteristics are robust to natural variability (such as El Niño-Southern Oscillation). The descending regime is characterized by a dry free troposphere and decreasing opaque liquid cloud cover with SST, and an expected clear-sky cooling with SST. In contrast, the ascending regime is characterized by a nonlinear response in ice cloud cover and free-tropospheric RH with SST that peak around the 302 K SST, which likely induce nonlinear responses of the radiative fluxes.(ii) The second question addressed the assumption of timescale-invariant feedback factors on daily, monthly, seasonal and annual scales. Rates of changes of RH and cloud characteristics with SST defined on the global scale (tropical oceans) are compared to rates of changes computed on the grid box scale. On the global scale, negligible changes are observed in the RH profile with SST, opaque cloud cover decreases, and ice cloud altitudes rise with SST with little change in cloud temperature. These results suggest an enhanced clear-sky radiative cooling with SST, whilst cloud emission temperatures are invariant, as discussed in some assumptions on the tropical atmosphere. Overall, the results highlight significant differences according to the timescale considered for computing global scale rates of changes, which can be used as a strong diagnostic in the evaluation of climate models. Following this, a first analysis of the IPSL model was performed and shows the interest of such diagnostic based on observations.
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Submitted on : Monday, May 3, 2021 - 3:58:08 PM
Last modification on : Friday, December 3, 2021 - 11:42:55 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Wednesday, August 4, 2021 - 7:35:38 PM


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  • HAL Id : tel-03215903, version 1


Erik Höjgård-Olsen. Observations of the tropical atmospheric water cycle and its variations with sea surface temperature using a constellation of satellites. Ocean, Atmosphere. Université Paris-Saclay, 2020. English. ⟨NNT : 2020UPASJ007⟩. ⟨tel-03215903⟩



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