Sensitivity of age-of-air calculations to the choice of advection scheme

Type: Journal Article

Venue: Atmospheric Science


Eluszkiewicz, J., R. S. Hemler, J. D. Mahlman, L. Bruhwiler, and L. L. Takacs, 2000: Sensitivity of age-of-air calculations to the choice of advection scheme. J. Atmos. Sci. 57, 3185-3201.

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The age of air has recently emerged as a diagnostic of atmospheric transport unaffected by chemical parameterizations, and the features in the age distributions computed in models have been interpreted in terms of the models’ large-scale circulation field. This study shows, however, that in addition to the simulated large-scale circulation, three-dimensional age calculations can also be affected by the choice of advection scheme employed in solving the tracer continuity equation. Specifically, using the 3.0 latitude 3.6 longitude and 40 verticallevel version of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory SKYHI GCM and six online transport schemes ranging from Eulerian through semi-Lagrangian to fully Lagrangian, it will be demonstrated that the oldest ages are obtained using the nondiffusive centered-difference schemes while the youngest ages are computed with a semi-Lagrangian transport (SLT) scheme. The centered-difference schemes are capable of producing ages older than 10 years in the mesosphere, thus eliminating the ‘‘young bias’’ found in previous age-of-air calculations. At this stage, only limited intuitive explanations can be advanced for this sensitivity of age-of-air calculation to the choice of advection scheme. In particular, age distributions computed online with the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate Model (MACCM3) using different varieties of the SLT scheme are substantially older than the SKYHI SLT distribution. The different varieties, including a noninterpolating-in-the-vertical version (which is essentially centered-difference in the vertical), also produce a narrower range of age distributions than the suite of advection schemes employed in the SKYHI model. While additional MACCM3 experiments with a wider range of schemes would be necessary to provide more definitive insights, the older and less variable MACCM3 age distributions can plausibly be interpreted as being due to the semi-implicit semi-Lagrangian dynamics employed in the MACCM3. This type of dynamical core (employed with a 60-min time step) is likely to reduce SLT’s interpolation errors that are compounded by the short-term variability characteristic of the explicit centered-difference dynamics employed in the SKYHI model (time step of 3 min). In the extreme case of a very slowly varying circulation, the choice of advection scheme has no effect on two-dimensional (latitude–height) age-of-air calculations, owing to the smooth nature of the transport circulation in 2D models. These results suggest that nondiffusive schemes may be the preferred choice for multiyear simulations of tracers not overly sensitive to the requirement of monotonicity (this category includes many greenhouse gases).
At the same time, age-of-air calculations offer a simple quantitative diagnostic of a scheme’s long-term diffusive properties and may help in the evaluation of dynamical cores in multiyear integrations. On the other hand, the sensitivity of the computed ages to the model numerics calls for caution in using age of air as a diagnostic of a GCM’s large-scale circulation field.