Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Research article
 | Highlight paper
18 May 2017
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 18 May 2017

The polar amplification asymmetry: role of Antarctic surface height

Marc Salzmann

Abstract. Previous studies have attributed an overall weaker (or slower) polar amplification in Antarctica compared to the Arctic to a weaker Antarctic surface albedo feedback and also to more efficient ocean heat uptake in the Southern Ocean in combination with Antarctic ozone depletion. Here, the role of the Antarctic surface height for meridional heat transport and local radiative feedbacks, including the surface albedo feedback, was investigated based on CO2-doubling experiments in a low-resolution coupled climate model. When Antarctica was assumed to be flat, the north–south asymmetry of the zonal mean top of the atmosphere radiation budget was notably reduced. Doubling CO2 in a flat Antarctica (flat AA) model setup led to a stronger increase in southern hemispheric poleward atmospheric and oceanic heat transport compared to the base model setup. Based on partial radiative perturbation (PRP) computations, it was shown that local radiative feedbacks and an increase in the CO2 forcing in the deeper atmospheric column also contributed to stronger Antarctic warming in the flat AA model setup, and the roles of the individual radiative feedbacks are discussed in some detail. A considerable fraction (between 24 and 80 % for three consecutive 25-year time slices starting in year 51 and ending in year 126 after CO2 doubling) of the polar amplification asymmetry was explained by the difference in surface height, but the fraction was subject to transient changes and might to some extent also depend on model uncertainties. In order to arrive at a more reliable estimate of the role of land height for the observed polar amplification asymmetry, additional studies based on ensemble runs from higher-resolution models and an improved model setup with a more realistic gradual increase in the CO2 concentration are required.

Short summary
The Arctic has been warming much faster than the rest of the globe, including Antarctica. Here it was shown that one of the important mechanisms that sets Antarctica apart from the Arctic is heat transport from lower latitudes, and it was argued that a decrease in land height due to Antarctic melting would be favorable for increased atmospheric heat transport from midlatitudes. Other factors related to the larger Antarctic land height were also investigated.
Final-revised paper