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Published August 1, 2008 | Published
Journal Article Open

The Hydrological Cycle over a Wide Range of Climates Simulated with an Idealized GCM


A wide range of hydrological cycles and general circulations was simulated with an idealized general circulation model (GCM) by varying the optical thickness of the longwave absorber. While the idealized GCM does not capture the full complexity of the hydrological cycle, the wide range of climates simulated allows the systematic development and testing of theories of how precipitation and moisture transport change as the climate changes. The simulations show that the character of the response of the hydrological cycle to variations in longwave optical thickness differs in different climate regimes. The global-mean precipitation increases linearly with surface temperature for colder climates, but it asymptotically approaches a maximum at higher surface temperatures. The basic features of the precipitation–temperature relation, including the rate of increase in the linear regime, are reproduced in radiative–convective equilibrium simulations. Energy constraints partially account for the precipitation–temperature relation but are not quantitatively accurate. Large-scale condensation is most important in the midlatitude storm tracks, and its behavior is accounted for using a stochastic model of moisture advection and condensation. The precipitation associated with large-scale condensation does not scale with mean specific humidity, partly because the condensation region moves upward and meridionally as the climate warms, and partly because the mean condensation rate depends on isentropic specific humidity gradients, which do not scale with the specific humidity itself. The local water vapor budget relates local precipitation to evaporation and meridional moisture fluxes, whose scaling in the subtropics and extratropics is examined. A delicate balance between opposing changes in evaporation and moisture flux divergence holds in the subtropical dry zones. The extratropical precipitation maximum follows the storm track in warm climates but lies equatorward of the storm track in cold climates.

Additional Information

© 2008 American Meteorological Society. (Manuscript received 29 May 2007, in final form 10 December 2007) We are grateful for support by the National Science Foundation (Grant ATM-0450059), the Davidow Discovery Fund, and a David and Lucile Packard Fellowship. The simulations were performed on Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences Dell cluster. We thank Dargan Frierson for providing code for the convection and radiation schemes, Chris Walker for development of the post-processing code, and Raymond Pierrehumbert and Duane Waliser for helpful discussions.

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