Uncertainty and scale interactions in ocean ensembles: From seasonal forecasts to multidecadal climate predictions

L. Zanna, J. M. Brankart, M. Huber, S. Leroux, T. Penduff, P. D. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The ocean plays an important role in the climate system on time-scales of weeks to centuries. Despite improvements in ocean models, dynamical processes involving multiscale interactions remain poorly represented, leading to errors in forecasts. We present recent advances in understanding, quantifying, and representing physical and numerical sources of uncertainty in novel regional and global ocean ensembles at different horizontal resolutions. At coarse resolution, uncertainty in 21st century projections of the upper overturning cell in the Atlantic is mostly a result of buoyancy fluxes, while the uncertainty in projections of the bottom cell is driven equally by both wind and buoyancy flux uncertainty. In addition, freshwater and heat fluxes are the largest contributors to Atlantic Ocean heat content regional projections and their uncertainties, mostly as a result of uncertain ocean circulation projections. At both coarse and eddy-permitting resolutions, unresolved stochastic temperature and salinity fluctuations can lead to significant changes in large-scale density across the Gulf Stream front, therefore leading to major changes in large-scale transport. These perturbations can have an impact on the ensemble spread on monthly time-scales and subsequently interact nonlinearly with the dynamics of the flow, generating chaotic variability on multiannual time-scales. In the Gulf Stream region, the ratio of chaotic variability to atmospheric-forced variability in meridional heat transport is larger than 50% on time-scales shorter than 2 years, while between 40 and 48°S the ratio exceeds 50% on on time-scales up to 28 years. Based on these simulations, we show that air–sea interaction and ocean subgrid eddies remain an important source of error for simulating and predicting ocean circulation, sea level, and heat uptake on a range of spatial and temporal scales. We discuss how further refinement of these ensembles can help us assess the relative importance of oceanic versus atmospheric uncertainty in weather and climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)160-175
Number of pages16
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Volume145
Issue numberS1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2019

Keywords

  • climate
  • ensemble simulations
  • modelling
  • ocean
  • stochastic parametrizations
  • uncertainties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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