Near-linear response of mean monsoon strength to a broad range of radiative forcings


Theoretical models have been used to argue that seasonal mean monsoons will shift abruptly and discontinuously from wet to dry stable states as their radiative forcings pass a critical threshold, sometimes referred to as a “tipping point.” Further support for a strongly nonlinear response of monsoons to radiative forcings is found in the seasonal onset of the South Asian summer monsoon, which is abrupt compared with the annual cycle of insolation. Here it is shown that the seasonal mean strength of monsoons instead exhibits a nearly linear dependence on a wide range of radiative forcings. First, a previous theory that predicted a discontinuous, threshold response is shown to omit a dominant stabilizing term in the equations of motion; a corrected theory predicts a continuous and nearly linear response of seasonal mean monsoon strength to forcings. A comprehensive global climate model is then used to show that the seasonal mean South Asian monsoon exhibits a near-linear dependence on a wide range of isolated greenhouse gas, aerosol, and surface albedo forcings. This model reproduces the observed abrupt seasonal onset of the South Asian monsoon but produces a near-linear response of the mean monsoon by changing the duration of the summer circulation and the latitude of that circulation’s ascent branch. Thus, neither a physically correct theoretical model nor a comprehensive climate model support the idea that seasonal mean monsoons will undergo abrupt, nonlinear shifts in response to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations, aerosol emissions, or land surface albedo.

Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the U.S.A.