Evaluating the large-scale hydrological cycle response within the Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project Phase 2 (PlioMIP2) ensemble

Christian.Stepanek [ at ] awi.de


The mid-Pliocene (∼3 Ma) is one of the most recent warm periods with high CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and resulting high temperatures, and it is often cited as an analog for near-term future climate change. Here, we apply a moisture budget analysis to investigate the response of the large-scale hydrological cycle at low latitudes within a 13-model ensemble from the Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project Phase 2 (PlioMIP2). The results show that increased atmospheric moisture content within the mid-Pliocene ensemble (due to the thermodynamic effect) results in wetter conditions over the deep tropics, i.e., the Pacific intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) and the Maritime Continent, and drier conditions over the subtropics. Note that the dynamic effect plays a more important role than the thermodynamic effect in regional precipitation minus evaporation (PmE) changes (i.e., northward ITCZ shift and wetter northern Indian Ocean). The thermodynamic effect is offset to some extent by a dynamic effect involving a northward shift of the Hadley circulation that dries the deep tropics and moistens the subtropics in the Northern Hemisphere (i.e., the subtropical Pacific). From the perspective of Earth's energy budget, the enhanced southward cross-equatorial atmospheric transport (0.22 PW), induced by the hemispheric asymmetries of the atmospheric energy, favors an approximately 1∘ northward shift of the ITCZ. The shift of the ITCZ reorganizes atmospheric circulation, favoring a northward shift of the Hadley circulation. In addition, the Walker circulation consistently shifts westward within PlioMIP2 models, leading to wetter conditions over the northern Indian Ocean. The PlioMIP2 ensemble highlights that an imbalance of interhemispheric atmospheric energy during the mid-Pliocene could have led to changes in the dynamic effect, offsetting the thermodynamic effect and, hence, altering mid-Pliocene hydroclimate.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Research Networks
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.5194/cp-17-2537-2021

Cite as
Han, Z. , Zhang, Q. , Li, Q. , Feng, R. , Haywood, A. M. , Tindall, J. C. , Hunter, S. J. , Otto-Bliesner, B. L. , Brady, E. C. , Rosenbloom, N. , Zhang, Z. , Li, X. , Guo, C. , Nisancioglu, K. H. , Stepanek, C. , Lohmann, G. , Sohl, L. E. , Chandler, M. A. , Tan, N. , Ramstein, G. , Baatsen, M. L. J. , von der Heydt, A. S. , Chandan, D. , Peltier, W. R. , Williams, C. J. R. , Lunt, D. J. , Cheng, J. , Wen, Q. and Burls, N. J. (2021): Evaluating the large-scale hydrological cycle response within the Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project Phase 2 (PlioMIP2) ensemble , Climate of the Past, 17 (6), pp. 2537-2558 . doi: 10.5194/cp-17-2537-2021

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