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On the evaluation of temperature trends in the tropical troposphere


A series of model experiments with the coupled Max-Planck-Institute ECHAM5/OM climate model have been investigated and compared with microwave measurements from the Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU) and re-analysis data for the period 1979–2008. The evaluation is carried out by computing the Temperature in the Lower Troposphere (TLT) and Temperature in the Middle Troposphere (TMT) using the MSU weights from both University of Alabama (UAH) and Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) and restricting the study to primarily the tropical oceans. When forced by analysed sea surface temperature the model reproduces accurately the time-evolution of the mean outgoing tropospheric microwave radiation especially over tropical oceans but with a minor bias towards higher temperatures in the upper troposphere. The latest reanalyses data from the 25 year Japanese re-analysis (JRA25) and European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasts Interim Reanalysis are in very close agreement with the time-evolution of the MSU data with a correlation of 0.98 and 0.96, respectively. The re-analysis trends are similar to the trends obtained from UAH but smaller than the trends from RSS. Comparison of TLT, computed from observations from UAH and RSS, with Sea Surface Temperature indicates that RSS has a warm bias after 1993. In order to identify the significance of the tropospheric linear temperature trends we determined the natural variability of 30-year trends from a 500 year control integration of the coupled ECHAM5 model. The model exhibits natural unforced variations of the 30 year tropospheric trend that vary within ±0.2 K/decade for the tropical oceans. This general result is supported by similar results from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) coupled climate model. Present MSU observations from UAH for the period 1979–2008 are well within this range but RSS is close to the upper positive limit of this variability. We have also compared the trend of the vertical lapse rate over the tropical oceans assuming that the difference between TLT and TMT is an approximate measure of the lapse rate. The TLT–TMT trend is larger in both the measurements and in the JRA25 than in the model runs by 0.04–0.06 K/decade. Furthermore, a calculation of all 30 year TLT–TMT trends of the unforced 500-year integration vary between ±0.03 K/decade suggesting that the models have a minor systematic warm bias in the upper troposphere.

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The authors would like to thank both Dr. C. Mears and Dr. J. Christy for providing the MSU weights. The JRA25 data where produced from the JRA25 long-term reanalysis cooperative research project carried out by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) and the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI). The ERA-Interim reanalysis data was obtained from the ECMWF data server. We acknowledge the modeling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP3 multi-model dataset. Support of this dataset is provided by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy. We also would like to thank one of the reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lennart Bengtsson.

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Bengtsson, L., Hodges, K.I. On the evaluation of temperature trends in the tropical troposphere. Clim Dyn 36, 419–430 (2011).

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  • Tropospheric temperature
  • Trend
  • MSU
  • Reanalyses