Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
Earth Syst. Dynam., 7, 133–150, 2016
Earth Syst. Dynam., 7, 133–150, 2016

Research article 23 Feb 2016

Research article | 23 Feb 2016

Scaling regimes and linear/nonlinear responses of last millennium climate to volcanic and solar forcings

Shaun Lovejoy1 and Costas Varotsos2 Shaun Lovejoy and Costas Varotsos
  • 1Physics, McGill University, 3600 University St., Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • 2Climate Research Group, Division of Environmental Physics and Meteorology, Faculty of Physics, University of Athens, University Campus Bldg. Phys. V, 15784 Athens, Greece

Abstract. At scales much longer than the deterministic predictability limits (about 10 days), the statistics of the atmosphere undergoes a drastic transition, the high-frequency weather acts as a random forcing on the lower-frequency macroweather. In addition, up to decadal and centennial scales the equivalent radiative forcings of solar, volcanic and anthropogenic perturbations are small compared to the mean incoming solar flux. This justifies the common practice of reducing forcings to radiative equivalents (which are assumed to combine linearly), as well as the development of linear stochastic models, including for forecasting at monthly to decadal scales.

In order to clarify the validity of the linearity assumption and determine its scale range, we use last millennium simulations, with both the simplified Zebiak–Cane (ZC) model and the NASA GISS E2-R fully coupled GCM. We systematically compare the statistical properties of solar-only, volcanic-only and combined solar and volcanic forcings over the range of timescales from 1 to 1000 years. We also compare the statistics to multiproxy temperature reconstructions. The main findings are (a) that the variability in the ZC and GCM models is too weak at centennial and longer scales; (b) for longer than  ≈  50 years, the solar and volcanic forcings combine subadditively (nonlinearly) compounding the weakness of the response; and (c) the models display another nonlinear effect at shorter timescales: their sensitivities are much higher for weak forcing than for strong forcing (their intermittencies are different) and we quantify this with statistical scaling exponents.

Short summary
We compare the statistical properties of solar, volcanic and combined forcings over the range from 1 to 1000 years to see over which scale ranges they additively combine, a prediction of linear response. The main findings are (a) that the variability in the Zebiac–Cane model and GCMs are too weak at centennial and longer scales; (b) for longer than ≈ 50 years, the forcings combine subadditively; and (c) at shorter scales, strong (intermittency, e.g. volcanic) forcings are nonlinear.
Final-revised paper