Forced vs unforced drivers of Atlantic SST variability - linking forced role to magnitude of aerosol forcing

Friday, 19 December 2014: 8:15 AM
Ben Booth1, Nick Dunstone1, Paul Richard Halloran1,2, Timothy Andrews1, Nicolas Bellouin3 and Elinor R Martin4, (1)Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, United Kingdom, (2)University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom, (3)University of Reading, Department of Meteorology, Reading, United Kingdom, (4)SUNY at Albany, Albany, NY, United States
Historical variations in North Atlantic SSTs have been a key driver of regional climate change – linked to drought frequency in the Sahel, Amazon and American Mid-West, rainfall and heat waves in Europe and frequency of Atlantic tropical storms. Traditionally these SST variations were deemed to arise from internally generated ocean variability. We present results from recent studies (Booth et al, 2012, Dunstone, 2013) that identify a mechanism via which volcanic and industrial aerosols could explain a large fraction of observed Atlantic variability, and its associated climate impacts.

This work has prompted a lot of subsequent discussion about the relative contribution of ocean generated and external forced variability in the Atlantic. Here we present new results, that extend this earlier work, by looking at forced variability in the CMIP5 modelling context. This provides new insights into the potential externally forced role aerosols may play in the real world. CMIP5 models that represent aerosol-cloud interactions tend to have stronger correlations to observed variations in SSTs, but disagree on the magnitude of forced variability that they explain. We can link this contribution to the magnitude of aerosol forcing in each of these models – a factor that is both dependent on the aerosol parameterisation and the representation of boundary layer cloud in this region. This suggests that whether aerosols have played a larger or smaller role in historical Atlantic variability is tied to whether aerosols have a larger or smaller aerosol forcing (particularly indirect) in the real world. This in turn suggests that benefits of reducing current aerosol uncertainty are likely to extend beyond better estimates of global forcing, to providing a clearer picture of the past aerosol driven role in historical regional climate change.