Rossby wave dynamics of the North Pacific extra-tropical response to El Niño: importance of the basic state in coupled GCMs
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- Dawson, A., Matthews, A.J. & Stevens, D.P. Clim Dyn (2011) 37: 391. doi:10.1007/s00382-010-0854-7
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The extra-tropical response to El Niño in a “low” horizontal resolution coupled climate model, typical of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fourth assessment report simulations, is shown to have serious systematic errors. A high resolution configuration of the same model has a much improved response that is similar to observations. The errors in the low resolution model are traced to an incorrect representation of the atmospheric teleconnection mechanism that controls the extra-tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) during El Niño. This is due to an unrealistic atmospheric mean state, which changes the propagation characteristics of Rossby waves. These erroneous upper tropospheric circulation anomalies then induce erroneous surface circulation features over the North Pacific. The associated surface wind speed and direction errors create erroneous surface flux and upwelling anomalies which finally lead to the incorrect extra-tropical SST response to El Niño in the low resolution model. This highlights the sensitivity of the climate response to a single link in a chain of complex climatic processes. The correct representation of these processes in the high resolution model indicates the importance of horizontal resolution in resolving such processes.