Numerical impacts on tracer transport: Diagnosing the influence of dynamical core formulation and resolution on stratospheric transport

Published in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 2021

Gupta, A., E. P. Gerber, R. A. Plumb, and P. H. Lauritzen, 2021: Numerical impacts on tracer transport: iagnosing the influence of dynamical core formulation and resolution on stratospheric transport, J. Atmos. Sci., in press.

Official version to appear

Accurate representation of stratospheric trace gas transport is important for ozone modeling and climate projection. Intermodel spread can arise from differences in the representation of transport by the diabatic (overturning) circulation vs. comparatively faster adiabatic mixing by breaking waves, or through numerical errors, primarily diffusion. This study investigates the impact of these processes on transport using an idealised tracer, the age-of-air. Transport is assessed in two state-of-the-art dynamical cores based on fundamentally different numerical formulations: finite volume and spectral element. Integrating the models in free-running and nudged tropical wind configurations reveals the crucial impact of tropical dynamics on stratospheric transport. Using age-budget theory, vertical and horizontal gradients of age allow comparison of the roles of the diabatic circulation, adiabatic mixing, and the numerical diffusive flux. Their respective contribution is quantified by connecting the full 3-d model to the tropical leaky pipe framework of Neu and Plumb (1999). Transport by the two cores varies significantly in the free-running integrations, with the age in the middle stratosphere differing by about 2 years primarily due to differences in adiabatic mixing. When winds in the tropics are constrained, the difference in age drops to about 0.5 years; in this configuration, more than half the difference is due to the representation of the diabatic circulation. Numerical diffusion is very sensitive to the resolution of the core, but does not play a significant role in differences between the cores when they are run at comparable resolution. It is concluded that fundamental differences rooted in dynamical core formulation can account for a substantial fraction of transport bias between climate models.