Relative Contributions of Mean-State Shifts and ENSO-Driven Variability to Precipitation Changes in a Warming Climate*

Bonfils, Céline J. W.; Santer, Benjamin D.; Phillips, Thomas J.; Marvel, Kate; Leung, L. Ruby; Doutriaux, Charles; Capotondi, Antonietta
December 2015
Journal of Climate;Dec2015, Vol. 28 Issue 24, p9997
Academic Journal
El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an important driver of regional hydroclimate variability through far-reaching teleconnections. This study uses simulations performed with coupled general circulation models (CGCMs) to investigate how regional precipitation in the twenty-first century may be affected by changes in both ENSO-driven precipitation variability and slowly evolving mean rainfall. First, a dominant, time-invariant pattern of canonical ENSO variability (cENSO) is identified in observed SST data. Next, the fidelity with which 33 state-of-the-art CGCMs represent the spatial structure and temporal variability of this pattern (as well as its associated precipitation responses) is evaluated in simulations of twentieth-century climate change. Possible changes in both the temporal variability of this pattern and its associated precipitation teleconnections are investigated in twenty-first-century climate projections. Models with better representation of the observed structure of the cENSO pattern produce winter rainfall teleconnection patterns that are in better accord with twentieth-century observations and more stationary during the twenty-first century. Finally, the model-predicted twenty-first-century rainfall response to cENSO is decomposed into the sum of three terms: 1) the twenty-first-century change in the mean state of precipitation, 2) the historical precipitation response to the cENSO pattern, and 3) a future enhancement in the rainfall response to cENSO, which amplifies rainfall extremes. By examining the three terms jointly, this conceptual framework allows the identification of regions likely to experience future rainfall anomalies that are without precedent in the current climate.


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