Numerical impacts on tracer transport: Diagnosing the influence of dynamical core formulation and resolution on stratospheric transport

Aman Gupta, Edwin P. Gerber, R. Alan Plumb, Peter H. Lauritzen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accurate representation of stratospheric trace gas transport is important for ozone modeling and climate projection. Intermodel spread can arise from differences in the representation of transport by the diabatic (overturning) circulation versus comparatively faster adiabatic mixing by breaking waves, or through numerical errors, primarily diffusion. This study investigates the impact of these processes on transport using an idealized tracer, the age of air. Transport is assessed in two state-of-the-art dynamical cores based on fundamentally different numerical formulations: finite-volume and spectral element. Integrating the models in free-running and nudged tropical wind configurations reveals the crucial impact of tropical dynamics on stratospheric transport. Using age-budget theory, vertical and horizontal gradients of age allow comparison of the roles of the diabatic circulation, adiabatic mixing, and the numerical diffusive flux. Their respective contribution is quantified by connecting the full 3D model to the tropical leaky pipe framework of Neu and Plumb. Transport by the two cores varies significantly in the free-running integrations, with the age in the middle stratosphere differing by about 2 years primarily due to differences in adiabatic mixing. When winds in the tropics are constrained, the difference in age drops to about 0.5 years; in this configuration, more than half the difference is due to the representation of the diabatic circulation. Numerical diffusion is very sensitive to the resolution of the core, but does not play a significant role in differences between the cores when they are run at comparable resolution. It is concluded that fundamental differences rooted in dynamical core formulation can account for a substantial fraction of transport bias between climate models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3575-3592
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Global transport modeling
  • Idealized models
  • Model comparison
  • Stratosphere-troposphere coupling
  • Stratospheric circulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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