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Interhemispheric Temperature Asymmetry over the Twentieth Century and in Future Projections

  • Author(s): Friedman, Andrew R
  • Hwang, Yen-Ting
  • Chiang, John C. H
  • Frierson, Dargan M. W
  • et al.

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The temperature contrast between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres—the interhemispheric temperature asymmetry (ITA)—is an emerging indicator of global climate change, potentially relevant to the Hadley circulation and tropical rainfall. The authors examine the ITA in historical observations and in phases 3 and 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3 and CMIP5) simulations. The observed annual-mean ITA (north minus south) has varied within a 0.8°C range and features a significant positive trend since 1980. The CMIP multimodel ensembles simulate this trend, with a stronger and more realistic signal in CMIP5. Both ensembles project a continued increase in the ITA over the twenty-first century, well outside the twentieth-century range. The authors mainly attribute this increase to the uneven spatial impacts of greenhouse forcing, which result in amplified warming in the Arctic and northern landmasses. The CMIP5 specific-forcing simulations indicate that, before 1980, the greenhouse-forced ITA trend was primarily countered by anthropogenic aerosols. The authors also identify an abrupt decrease in the observed ITA in the late 1960s, which is generally not present in the CMIP simulations; it suggests that the observed drop was caused by internal variability. The difference in the strengths of the northern and southern Hadley cells covaries with the ITA in the CMIP5 simulations, in accordance with previous findings; the authors also find an association with the hemispheric asymmetry in tropical rainfall. These relationships imply a northward shift in tropical rainfall with increasing ITA in the twenty-first century, though this result is difficult to separate from the response to global-mean temperature change.

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