Science Meetings

Detecting Global Hydrological Cycle Intensification in Sea Surface Salinity
Poague, J., Stine, A. (16-Dec-16)

Global warming is expected to intensify the global hydrological cycle, but significant regional differences exist in the predicted response. The proposed zonal mean thermodynamic response is enhanced horizontal moisture transport associated with increased saturation vapor pressure, which in turn drives additional net precipitation in the tropics and at high latitudes and additional net evaporation in the subtropics. Sea surface salinity (SSS) anomalies are forced from above by changes in evaporation minus precipitation (E-P) and thus will respond to changes in the global hydrological cycle, opening the possibility of using historical SSS anomalies to diagnose the response of the hydrological cycle to warming. We estimate zonal mean SSS trends in the Atlantic and Pacific ocean basins from 1955-2015 to test whether historical changes in the global hydrological cycle are consistent with a primarily thermodynamic response. Motivated by this observation, we calculate the sensitivity of basin zonal-mean SSS anomalies to sea surface temperature (SST) forcing as a function of timescale to diagnose and estimate the signal-to-noise ratio of the purely thermodynamic signal as a function of timescale. High-frequency variability in SSS anomalies is likely to be influenced by variability in atmospheric circulation, complicating the attribution of the link between basin zonal-mean SSS anomalies and global SST anomalies. We therefore estimate the basin zonal mean SSS anomaly response to the major modes of large-scale dynamic variability. We find a strong correlation between detrended zonal-mean SSS anomalies and the Pacific-North American index (R=0.71,P<0.01) in the Pacific Ocean. We interpret the relationship between zonal mean SSS anomalies and temperature in terms of the relative contribution of thermodynamic and dynamic processes.