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Kang, Sarah M.
Climate Dynamics Lab
Research Interests
  • Climate change, ITCZ, Atmospheric general circulation, Polar amplification


Croll revisited: Why is the northern hemisphere warmer than the southern hemisphere?

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Croll revisited: Why is the northern hemisphere warmer than the southern hemisphere?
Kang, Sarah M.Seager, RichardFrierson, Dargan M. W.Liu, Xiaojuan
Issue Date
CLIMATE DYNAMICS, v.44, no.5-6, pp.1457 - 1472
The question of why, in the annual-mean, the northern hemisphere (NH) is warmer than the southern hemisphere (SH) is addressed, revisiting an 1870 paper by James Croll. We first show that ocean is warmer than land in general which, acting alone, would make the SH, with greater ocean fraction, warmer. Croll was aware of this and thought it was caused by greater specific humidity and greenhouse trapping over ocean than over land. However, for any given temperature, it is shown that greenhouse trapping is actually greater over land. Instead, oceans are warmer than land because of the smaller surface albedo. However, hemispheric differences in planetary albedo are negligible because the impact of differences in land-sea fraction are offset by the SH ocean and land reflecting more than their NH counterparts. In the absence of a role for albedo differences it is shown that, in agreement with Croll, northward cross-equatorial ocean heat transport (X-OHT) is critical for the warmer NH. This is examined in a simple box model based on the energy budget of each hemisphere. The hemispheric difference forced by X-OHT is enhanced by the positive water vapor-greenhouse feedback, and is partly compensated by the southward atmospheric energy transport. Due to uncertainties in the ocean data, a range of X-OHT is considered. A X-OHT of larger than 0.5 PW is needed to explain the warmer NH solely by X-OHT. For smaller X-OHT, a larger basic state greenhouse trapping in the NH, conceived as imposed by continental geometry, needs to be imposed. Numerical experiments with a GCM coupled to a slab ocean provide evidence that X-OHT is fundamentally important in determining the hemispheric differences in temperature. Therefore, despite some modifications to his theory, analysis of modern data confirms Croll's 140-year-old theory that the warmer NH is partly because of northward X-OHT.
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