Mechanisms for stronger warming over drier ecoregions observed since 1979
Previous research found that the warming rate observed for the period 1979–2012 increases dramatically with decreasing vegetation greenness over land between 50°S and 50°N, with the strongest warming rate seen over the driest regions such as the Sahara desert and the Arabian Peninsula, suggesting warming amplification over deserts. To further this finding, this paper explores possible mechanisms for this amplification by analyzing observations, reanalysis data and historical simulations of global coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation models. We examine various variables, related to surface radiative forcing, land surface properties, and surface energy and radiation budget, that control the warming patterns in terms of large-scale ecoregions. Our results indicate that desert amplification is likely attributable primarily to enhanced longwave radiative forcing associated with a stronger water vapor feedback over drier ecoregions in response to the positive global-scale greenhouse gas forcing. This warming amplification and associated downward longwave radiation at the surface are reproduced by historical simulations with anthropogenic and natural forcings, but are absent if only natural forcings are considered, pointing to new potential fingerprints of anthropogenic warming. These results suggest a fundamental pattern of global warming over land that depend on the dryness of ecosystems in mid- and low- latitudes, likely reflecting primarily the first order large-scale thermodynamic component of global warming linked to changes in the water and energy cycles over different ecosystems. This finding may have important implications in interpreting global warming patterns and assessing climate change impacts.
KeywordsGlobal warming Greenhouse gases Radiative forcing Water vapor feedback
This study was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF AGS-1247137 and AGS-1535426). H.C. was funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Number 41230422). N.W. was supported by the China Scholarship Council (CSC) and by the University at Albany, State University of New York.
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