A multi-model analysis of the resolution influence on precipitation climatology in the Gulf Stream region

Xuelei Feng, Bohua Huang, Ben P. Kirtman, James L. Kinter, Long S. Chiu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Using climate simulations from coupled and uncoupled general circulation models, this study investigates the influence of horizontal resolution in both atmospheric and oceanic model components on the mean precipitation over the Gulf Stream (GS) region. For this purpose, three sets of model experiments are analyzed. The first two examine the effects of increasing horizontal resolution of an atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) gradually from 100 to 10 km under fixed oceanic settings. Specifically, the AGCM is either forced with prescribed observed sea surface temperature (SST) (the first case) or coupled to a non-eddy-resolving ocean general circulation model (OGCM) at a fixed horizontal resolution near 100 km (the second case). The third set of experiments examines the effects of the oceanic resolution with a pair of long-term simulations by another coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model (CGCM), in which the OGCM is run respectively at non-eddy-resolving (100 km) and eddy-resolving (10 km) resolutions, while the AGCM resolution remains fixed at 50 km for both runs. In general, all simulations qualitatively reproduce the gross features of the mean GS precipitation and its annual cycle. At similar AGCM resolutions, the uncoupled models produce a GS rain band that is more realistic in both structure and strength compared to the coupled models with non-eddy-resolving oceans. This is because the prescribed observed SST better represents the gradient near the oceanic front than the non-eddy-resolving OGCMs simulate. An increase from the baseline AGCM resolution produces enhanced climatological GS precipitation, both large-scale and convective, with the latter more tightly confined to the oceanic front. The enhancement, however, is moderate and further increases in resolution achieves diminishing results. On the other hand, an increase in oceanic resolution from non-eddy-resolving to eddy resolving scheme results in more consistent simulations with observations in both intensity and structure of the rain band. The major increase is in the convective precipitation near the much-tightened SST gradient associated with the oceanic front. Therefore, the intensity improvement caused by oceanic resolution increases is more effective than that from atmospheric resolution increases. Further analyses show that the improvement of Gulf Stream precipitation climatology due to model horizontal resolution increases can be understood in terms of the atmospheric surface pressure adjustment to the sharper SST gradient near the oceanic front, which leads to stronger atmospheric surface convergence and upper level divergence. The associated ascending motion contributes to the precipitation band located in the Gulf Stream.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1685-1704
Number of pages20
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Atmospheric general circulation model
  • Coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model
  • Eddy-resolving ocean general circulation model
  • Gulf Stream
  • Model horizontal resolution
  • Oceanic front
  • Precipitation climatology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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