The role of horizontal resolution in simulating drivers of the global hydrological cycle

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Demory, Marie-Estelle ; Vidale, Pier Luigi ; Roberts, Malcolm J. ; Berrisford, Paul ; Strachan, Jane ; Schiemann, Reinhard ; Mizielinski, Matthew S. (2013)

The role of atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) horizontal resolution in representing the global energy budget and hydrological cycle is assessed, with the aim of improving the understanding of model uncertainties in simulating the hydrological cycle. We use two AGCMs from the UK Met Office Hadley Centre: HadGEM1-A at resolutions ranging from 270 to 60 km, and HadGEM3-A ranging from 135 to 25 km. The models exhibit a stable hydrological cycle, although too intense compared to reanalyses and observations. This over-intensity is explained by excess surface shortwave radiation, a common error in general circulation models (GCMs). This result is insensitive to resolution. However, as resolution is increased, precipitation decreases over the ocean and increases over the land. This is associated with an increase in atmospheric moisture transport from ocean to land, which changes the partitioning of moisture fluxes that contribute to precipitation over land from less local to more non-local moisture sources. The results start to converge at 60-km resolution, which underlines the excessive reliance of the mean hydrological cycle on physical parametrization (local unresolved processes) versus model dynamics (large-scale resolved processes) in coarser HadGEM1 and HadGEM3 GCMs. This finding may be valid for other GCMs, showing the necessity to analyze other chains of GCMs that may become available in the future with such a range of horizontal resolutions. Our finding supports the hypothesis that heterogeneity in model parametrization is one of the underlying causes of model disagreement in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) exercises.
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