What is the representation of the moisture-tropopause relationship in CMIP5 models?

Yutian Wu, Olivier Pauluis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A dynamical relationship that connects the extratropical tropopause potential temperature and the near-surface distribution of equivalent potential temperature was proposed in a previous study and was found to work successfully in capturing the annual cycle of the extratropical tropopause in reanalyses. This study extends the diagnosis of the moisture-tropopause relationship to an ensemble of CMIP5 models. It is found that, in general, CMIP5 multimodel averages are able to produce the one-to-one moisture-tropopause relationship. However, a few biases are observed as compared to reanalyses. First of all, "cold biases" are seen at both the upper and lower levels of the troposphere, which are universal for all seasons, both hemispheres, and almost all CMIP5 models. This has been known as the "general coldness of climate models" since 1990 but the mechanisms remain elusive. It is shown that, for Northern Hemisphere annual averages, the upper- and lower-level "cold" biases are, in fact, correlated across CMIP5 models, which supports the dynamical linkage. Second, a large intermodel spread is found and nearly half of the models underestimate the annual cycle of the tropopause potential temperature as compared to that of the near-surface equivalent potential temperature fluctuation. This implies the incapability of the models to propagate the surface seasonal cycle to the upper levels. Finally, while reanalyses exhibit a pronounced asymmetry in tropopause potential temperature between the northern and southern summers, only a few CMIP5 models are able to capture this aspect of the seasonal cycle because of the too dry specific humidity in northern summer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4877-4889
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2015


  • Tropopause

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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