Regional and Seasonal Characteristics of the Recent Expansion of the Tropics

In recent decades, the subtropical edges of Earth’s Hadley circulation have shifted poleward. Some studies have concluded that this observed tropical expansion is occurring more rapidly than predicted by global climate models. However, recent modeling studies have shown that internal variability can account for a large fraction of the observed circulation trends, at least in an annual-mean, zonal-mean framework. This study extends these previous results by examining the seasonal and regional characteristics of the recent poleward expansion of the Hadley circulation using seven reanalysis datasets, sea level pressure observations, and surface wind observations. The circulation has expanded the most poleward during summer and fall in both hemispheres, with more zonally asymmetric circulation trends occurring in the Northern Hemisphere (NH). The seasonal and regional characteristics of these observed trends generally fall within the range of trends predicted by climate models for the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and in most cases, the magnitude of the observed trends does not exceed the range of interdecadal trends in the models’ control runs, which arise exclusively from internal variability. One exception occurs during NH fall when large observed poleward shifts in the atmospheric circulation over the North Atlantic sector exceed nearly all trends projected by models. While most recent NH circulation trends are consistent with a change in phase of the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), the observed circulation trends over the North Atlantic instead reflect 1) large natural variability unrelated to the PDO and/or 2) a climate forcing (or the circulation response to that forcing) that is not properly captured by models.

Publication Date:
Jul 23 2018
Date Submitted:
Jun 21 2019
Journal of Climate

 Record created 2019-06-21, last modified 2019-08-06

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