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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 04 Mar 2019

Research article | 04 Mar 2019

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

On the sensitivity of oceanic precipitation to sea surface temperature

Jörg Burdanowitz1,2, Stefan A. Buehler2, Stephan Bakan1, and Christian Klepp1,2 Jörg Burdanowitz et al.
  • 1Max Planck Institute for Meteorology Hamburg, Bundesstr. 53, 20146 Hamburg Germany
  • 2Meteorological Institute, Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability, Universität Hamburg, Bundesstr. 55, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

Abstract. Our study forms the oceanic counterpart to numerous observational studies over land considering the sensitivity of extreme precipitation to a change in air temperature. We explore the sensitivity of oceanic precipitation to changing sea surface temperature (SST) by exploiting two novel datasets at high resolution. First, we use the Ocean Rainfall And Ice-phase precipitation measurement Network (OceanRAIN) as an observational along-track shipboard dataset at 1-minute resolution. Second, we exploit the most recent European Re-Analysis version 5 (ERA5) at hourly resolution on 31 km grid. Matched with each other, ERA5 vertical velocity allows to constrain OceanRAIN precipitation. Despite the inhomogeneous sampling along ship tracks, OceanRAIN agrees with ERA5 on the average latitudinal distribution of precipitation with fairly good seasonal sampling. However, the 99th percentile of OceanRAIN precipitation follows a super-Clausius-Clapeyron scaling with SST that exceeds 8.5 % K−1 while ERA5 precipitation scales with 4.5 % K−1. The sensitivity decreases towards lower precipitation percentiles while OceanRAIN keeps an almost constant offset to ERA5 due to higher spatial resolution and temporal sampling. Unlike over land, we find no evidence for decreasing precipitation event duration with SST. ERA5 precipitation reaches a local minimum at about 26 °C that vanishes when constraining vertical velocity to strongly rising motion and excluding areas of weak correlation between precipitation and vertical velocity. This indicates that instead of moisture limitations as over land, circulation dynamics rather limit precipitation formation over the ocean. For strongest rising motion, precipitation scaling converges to a constant value at all precipitation percentiles. Overall, high resolution in observations as well as climate models is key to understand and predict the sensitivity of oceanic precipitation extremes to a change in SST.

Jörg Burdanowitz et al.
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Jörg Burdanowitz et al.
Jörg Burdanowitz et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The sensitivity of precipitation to sea surface temperature over the ocean determines how precipitation potentially changes in a warming climate. This relationship has hardly been studied over ocean due to a lack of longterm oceanic data. Our study shows how the precipitation sensitivity depends on resolution, what process limits oceanic precipitation and how the event duration depends on temperature. This provides valuable information for future climate observations, modeling and understanding.
The sensitivity of precipitation to sea surface temperature over the ocean determines how...