Evaluating the impact of enhanced horizontal resolution over the Antarctic domain using a variable-resolution Earth system model

Rajashree Tri Datta, Adam Herrington, Jan T.M. Lenaerts, David P. Schneider, Luke Trusel, Ziqi Yin, Devon Dunmire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Earth system models are essential tools for understanding the impacts of a warming world, particularly on the contribution of polar ice sheets to sea level change. However, current models lack full coupling of the ice sheets to the ocean and are typically run at a coarse resolution (1 °grid spacing or coarser). Coarse spatial resolution is particularly a problem over Antarctica, where sub-grid-scale orography is well-known to influence precipitation fields, and glacier models require high-resolution atmospheric inputs. This resolution limitation has been partially addressed by regional climate models (RCMs), which must be forced at their lateral and ocean surface boundaries by (usually coarser) global atmospheric datasets, However, RCMs fail to capture the two-way coupling between the regional domain and the global climate system. Conversely, running high-spatial-resolution models globally is computationally expensive and can produce vast amounts of data. Alternatively, variable-resolution grids can retain the benefits of high resolution over a specified domain without the computational costs of running at a high resolution globally. Here we evaluate a historical simulation of the Community Earth System Model version 2 (CESM2) implementing the spectral element (SE) numerical dynamical core (VR-CESM2) with an enhanced-horizontal-resolution (0.25°) grid over the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the surrounding Southern Ocean; the rest of the global domain is on the standard 1 °grid. We compare it to 1 °model runs of CESM2 using both the SE dynamical core and the standard finite-volume (FV) dynamical core, both with identical physics and forcing, including prescribed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and sea ice concentrations from observations. Our evaluation reveals both improvements and degradations in VR-CESM2 performance relative to the 1 °CESM2. Surface mass balance estimates are slightly higher but within 1 standard deviation of the ensemble mean, except for over the Antarctic Peninsula, which is impacted by better-resolved surface topography. Temperature and wind estimates are improved over both the near surface and aloft, although the overall correction of a cold bias (within the 1 °CESM2 runs) has resulted in temperatures which are too high over the interior of the ice sheet. The major degradations include the enhancement of surface melt as well as excessive cloud liquid water over the ocean, with resultant impacts on the surface radiation budget. Despite these changes, VR-CESM2 is a valuable tool for the analysis of precipitation and surface mass balance and thus constraining estimates of sea level rise associated with the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3847-3866
Number of pages20
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 6 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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