Climate Dynamics

, Volume 39, Issue 7–8, pp 1781–1799 | Cite as

Anthropogenic changes in the Walker circulation and their impact on the extra-tropical planetary wave structure in the Northern Hemisphere

  • Reindert J. Haarsma
  • Frank Selten


A robust change in the tropical circulation induced by anthropogenic warming in CMIP3 models is a weakening of the Walker circulation. This weakening affects the upper tropospheric divergence thereby modifying the propagation of Rossby waves from the tropics into the extra-tropics. It can be modeled by the barotropic vorticity equation forced with a Rossby wave source that is computed from the upper tropospheric divergence. Using the BVE as a diagnostic tool it is demonstrated for the CMIP3 models that the weakening of the Walker circulation has a significant impact on the extra-tropical planetary wave structure and to a large extent explains the projected changes in the mid tropospheric meridional wind in the CMIP3 models. The dominant response is a wave number five pattern similar to the circumglobal waveguide pattern. This analysis implies that a correct simulation of the Walker circulation and its response to anthropogenic changes are crucial for a correct simulation of the anthropogenic change in the extra-tropical planetary wave structure. Structure and intensity of the Walker circulation of the CMIP3 models show significant deviations from the Walker circulation as diagnosed from the ERA-interim and NCEP/NCAR reanalysis. Improving the simulation of the Walker circulation is a prerequisite to narrow the uncertainty in the projected anthropogenic change in the extra-tropical planetary wave structure.


Climate change Planetary wave structure Atmospheric dynamics Walker circulation 



We thank Xueli Wang for her help in making the Taylor Diagrams. Critical remarks of Wilco Hazeleger and Geert Jan van Oldenborgh helped us to improve the manuscript. The remarks of two anonymous reviewers further substantially improved the manuscript. The ESSENCE project, lead by Wilco Hazeleger (KNMI) and Henk Dijkstra (UU/IMAU), was carried out with support of DEISA, HLRS, SARA and NCF (through NCF projects NRG-2006.06, CAVE-06-023 and SG-06-267). We thank the DEISA Consortium (co-funded by the EU, FP6 projects 508830/031513) for support within the DEISA Extreme Computing Initiative ( The authors thank Andreas Sterl (KNMI), Camiel Severijns (KNMI), and HLRS and SARA staff for technical support.


  1. Brandefelt J, Körnich H (2008) Northern Hemisphere stationary waves in future climate projections. J Clim 21:6341–6353. doi: 10.1175/2008JCLI2373.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Branstator GW (2002) Circumglobal teleconnections, the jet stream waveguide, and the North Atlantic Oscillation. J Clim 15:1893–1910CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Branstator GW, Selten FM (2009) Modes of variability and climate change. J Clim 22:2639–2658CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brunet G, Haynes PH (1996) Low-latitude reflection of Rossby wave trains. J Atmos Sci 53:482–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dee DP et al (2011) The ERA-interim reanalysis: configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q J R Meteorol Soc 137:553–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Déqué M et al (2007) An intercomparison of regional climate simulations for Europe: assessing uncertainties in model projections. Clim Change 81:53–70. doi: 10.1007/s10584-006-9228-x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Haarsma RJ, Opsteegh JD (1989) Nonlinear response to anomalous tropical forcing. J Atmos Sci 46:3240–3255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Haltiner GJ (1971) Numerical weather prediction. Wiley, London. ISBN:0-471-34580-6Google Scholar
  9. Held IM, Kang I-S (1987) Barotropic models of the extra-tropical response to El Niño. J Atmos Sci 44:3576–3586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Held IM, Soden BJ (2006) Robust responses of the hydrological cycle to global warming. J Clim 19:5686–5699CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Held IM, Lee Panetta R, Pierrehumbert RT (1985) Stationary external Rossby waves in vertical shear. J Atmos Sci 42:865–883CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Held IM, Ting M, Wang H (2002) Northern winter stationary waves: theory and modeling. J Clim 15:2125–2144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hoerling MP, Hurrell JW, Xu T (2001) Tropical origins for recent North Atlantic climate change. Science 292:90–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hoskins BJ, Ambrizzi T (1993) Rossby wave propagation on a realistic longitudinally varying flow. J Atmos Sci 50:1661–1671CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hoskins BJ, Karoly DJ (1981) The steady linear response of a spherical atmosphere to thermal and orographic forcing. J Atmos Sci 38:1179–1196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Joseph R, Ting T, Kushner PJ (2004) The global stationary wave response to climate change in a coupled GCM. J Clim 17:540–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Källen E (1981) The nonlinear effects of orographic and momentum forcing in a low-order, barotropic model. J Atmos Sci 38:2150–2163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kalnay E et al (1996) The NCEP/NCAR 40-year reanalysis project. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 77:437–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lu J, Vecchi GA, Reichler T (2007) Expansion of the Hadley cell under global warming. Geophys Res Lett 34:L06805. doi: 10.1029/2006GL028443 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lu J, Deser C, Reichler T (2009) Cause of the widening of the tropical belt since 1958. Geophys Res Lett 36:L03803. doi: 10.1029/2008GL036076 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Meehl GA, Covey C, Taylor KE, Delworth T, Stouffer RJ, Latif M, McAvaney B, Mitchell JFB (2007) The WCRP CMIP3 multimodel dataset. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 88:1383–1394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Reichler TJ, Held IM (2005) Evidence for a widening of the Hadley cell. 17th AMS conference on climate. Variability and change. American Meteorological Society, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Sardeshmukh PD, Hoskins BJ (1985) Vorticity balances in the tropics during the 1982–83 El Niño-Southern Oscillation event. Q J R Meteorol Soc 111:261–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Seidel DJ, Fu Q, Randel WJ, Reichler TJ (2008) Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate. Nat Geosci 1:21–24Google Scholar
  25. Selten FM, Branstator GW, Dijkstra HA, Kliphuis M (2004) Tropical origin for recent and future Northern Hemisphere climate change. Geophys Res Lett 31:L21205. doi: 10.1029/2004GL020739 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Shin S-I, Sardeshmukh PD (2010) Influence of Tropical Ocean warming on remote climate trends. Clim Dyn. doi: 10.1007/s00382-009-0732-3
  27. Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  28. Stephenson DB, Held IM (1993) GCM response of northern winter stationary waves and storm tracks to increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. J Clim 6:1859–1870CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sterl A, Severijns C, Dijkstra H, Hazeleger W, van Oldenborgh GJ, van den Broeke M, Burgers G, van den Hurk B, van Leeuwen PJ, van Velthoven P (2008) When can we expect extremely high surface temperatures? Geophys Res Lett 35:L14703. doi: 10.1029/2008GL034071 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ting M, Wang H, Yu L (2001) Nonlinear stationary wave maintenance and seasonal cycle in the GFDL R30 GCM. J Atmos Sci 58:2331–2354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Uppala S et al (2005) The ERA-40 re-analysis. Q J R Meteorol Soc 131:2961–3012CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. van Oldenborgh GJ, Burgers G, Klein Tank A (2000) On the El-Niño teleconnection to spring precipitation in Europe. Int J Climatol 20:565–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. van Ulden AP, van Oldenborgh GJ (2006) Large-scale atmospheric circulation biases and changes in global climate model simulations and their importance for climate change in Central Europe. Atmos Chem Phys 6:863–881CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Vecchi GA, Soden BJ (2007) Global warming and the weakening of the tropical circulation. J Clim 20:4316–4430CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Vecchi GA, Soden BJ, Wittenberg AT, Held IM, Leetmaa A, Harrison MJ (2006) Weakening of tropical Pacific atmospheric circulation due to anthropogenic forcing. Nature 441:73–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Verkley WTM (1987) Stationary barotropic modons in westerly background flows. J Atmos Sci 44:2383–2398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Walker CC, Magnusdottir G (2003) Nonlinear planetary wave reflection in an atmospheric GCM. J Atmos Sci 60:279–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Webster PJ (1982) Seasonality in the local and remote atmospheric response to sea surface temperature anomalies. J Atmos Sci 39:41–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Woollings T (2010) Dynamical influences on European climate: an uncertain future. Philos Trans R Soc A 368:3733–3756CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)De BiltThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations