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Land surface feedbacks and the simulation of anthropogenically-forced Arctic Oscillation trends

PI: Gavin Gong
Institution: Columbia University
An important frontier in climate change science is the modeling of anthropogenically-forced changes in large-scale climatic modes, which many believe to hold greater potential for accurate long-term prediction than specific parameters such as regional temperatures. One such phenomenon, the Arctic Oscillation (AO), is the subject of the intended IPCC AR4 climate model analysis. The objective will be to assess the relative ability of the participating models to capture the direction and magnitude of the observed upward trend in the winter AO index over the past 25 years, and by doing so identify key processes that modulate this fundamental mode of extratropical Northern Hemisphere climate. This analysis will be conducted by Dr. Gavin Gong, Assistant Professor with the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University, and Dr. Dara Entekhabi, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their recent work has focused on land surface feedbacks on climate change and the AO signal, specifically involving continental-scale snow anomalies. A preliminary hypothesis to be investigated is that negative surface snow anomalies result from anthropogenic warming, and also serve as a physically-based precursor for positive AO anomalies. Thus land surface snow conditions may represent an important positive feedback in anthropogenically-forced AO trends, but one that is currently modeled with varying degrees of sophistication and accuracy in climate models. Current generation models generally underestimate the magnitude of the recent upward AO trend; models with stronger snow representations may better simulate this observed trend. Investigation of this hypothesis will require a number of standard data fields from each participating model, e.g., surface snow depth, surface temperatures, and geopotential heights and zonal wind throughout the troposphere and lower stratosphere.

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