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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 07 Jan 2019

Research article | 07 Jan 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Tropical Pacific Climate Variability under Solar Geoengineering: Impacts on ENSO Extremes

Abdul Malik1,2, Peer J. Nowack1,3,4, Joanna D. Haigh1,3, Long Cao5, Luqman Atique5, and Yves Plancherel1 Abdul Malik et al.
  • 1Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, London, UK
  • 2Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, and Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 3Department of Physics, Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London, UK
  • 4Data Science Institute, Imperial College London, UK
  • 5School of Earth Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

Abstract. Many modelling studies suggest that the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), in interaction with the tropical Pacific background climate, will change under rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Solar geoengineering (reducing the solar flux from outer space) has been proposed as a means to counteract anthropogenic greenhouse-induced changes in climate. Effectiveness of solar geoengineering is uncertain. Robust results are particularly difficult to obtain for ENSO because existing geoengineering simulations are too short (typically ~50 years) to detect statistically significant changes in the highly variable tropical Pacific background climate. We here present results from a 1000-year sunshade geoengineering simulation, G1, carried out with the coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model HadCM3L. In agreement with previous studies, reducing the shortwave solar flux more than compensates the warming in the tropical Pacific that develops in the 4×CO2 scenario: we observe an overcooling of 0.3°C (5%) and 0.23-mm day−1 (5%) reduction in mean rainfall relative to preindustrial conditions in the G1 simulation. This is due to the different latitudinal distributions of the shortwave (solar) and longwave (CO2) forcings.The location of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) located north of equator in the tropical Pacific, which moved 7.5° southwards under 4×CO2, is also restored to its preindustrial location. However, other aspects of the tropical Pacific mean climate are not reset as effectively. Relative to preindustrial conditions, in G1 the zonal wind stress, zonal sea surface temperature (SST) gradient, and meridional SST gradient are reduced by 10%, 11%, and 9%, respectively, and the Pacific Walker Circulation (PWC) is consistently weakened. The overall amplitude of ENSO strengthens by 5–8%, but there is a 65% reduction in the asymmetry between cold and warm events: cold events intensify more than warm events. Importantly, the frequency of extreme El Niño and La Niña events increases by 44% and 32%, respectively, while the total number of El Niño events increases by 12%. Paradoxically, while the number of total and extreme events increase, the most extreme El Niño events also become weaker relative to preindustrial state while the La Niña events become stronger. That is, extreme El Niño events in G1 become less extreme than in preindustrial conditions, but extreme El Niño events become more frequent. In contrast, extreme La Niña events become stronger in G1. This is in agreement with the general overcooling of the tropical Pacific in G1 relative to preindustrial conditions, which depict a shift towards generally more La Niña-like conditions.

Abdul Malik et al.
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Abdul Malik et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Solar geoengineering has been introduced to mitigate human-caused global warming by reflecting sunlight back into space. This research investigates influence of solar geoengineering on tropical Pacific climate variability. We find that solar geoengineering can compensate some of the greenhouse-induced changes in the tropical Pacific but not all. In particular, solar geoengineering will result in significant changes in rainfall, see surface temperatures, and extreme events in tropical Pacific.
Solar geoengineering has been introduced to mitigate human-caused global warming by reflecting...