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On the Time of Emergence of Tropical Width Change
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  • Source:
    Journal of Climate, 31(18), 7225-7236.
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  • Description:
    The tropical belt is expected to expand in response to global warming, although most of the observed tropical widening since 1980, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, is believed to have mainly originated from natural variability. The view is of a small global warming signal relative to natural variability. Here we focus on the question whether and, if so when, the anthropogenic signal of tropical widening will become detectable. Analysis of two large ensemble climate simulations reveals that the forced signal of tropical width is strongly constrained by the forced signal of global mean temperature. Under a representative concentration pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) emissions scenario, the aggregate of the two models indicates a regression of about 0.5 degrees lat degrees C-1 during 1980-2080. The models also reveal that interannual variability in tropical width, a measure of noise used herein, is insensitive to global warming. Reanalysis data are therefore used to constrain the interannual variability, whose magnitude is estimated to be 1.1 degrees latitude. Defining the time of emergence (ToE) for tropical width change as the first year (post-1980) when the forced signal exceeds the magnitude of interannual variability, the multimodel simulations of CMIP5 are used to estimate ToE and its confidence interval. The aforementioned strong constraint between the signal of tropical width change and global mean temperature change motivates using CMIP5-simulated global mean temperature changes to infer ToE. Our best estimate for the probable year for ToE, under an RCP8.5 emissions scenario, is 2058 with 10th-90th percentile confidence of 2047-68. Various sources of uncertainty in estimating the ToE are discussed.
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