Climate Science Speaker Series

Ben Lintner, Rutgers


The South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ), an area of intense deep convection and low-level convergence extending southeastward from the western Pacific warm pool into Southern Hemisphere mid-latitudes, is a dominant feature of the tropical Pacific.  Despite its significance to the climate of the South Pacific, many fundamental aspects of the SPCZ, including its orientation and intensity, remain poorly understood.   One theorized control on the position of the SPCZ is the amount of low-level inflow from the relatively dry southeastern Pacific basin. Building on the analysis of observed SPCZ-region synoptic scale variability by Lintner and Neelin (2008), composite analysis is performed here on two reanalysis products as well as output from 17 models in phase five of the Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project (CMIP5). Using low-level zonal wind as a compositing index, it is shown that the CMIP5 ensemble mean, as well as many of the individual models, captures patterns of wind, specific humidity, and precipitation anomalies resembling those obtained for reanalysis fields between strong- and weak-inflow phases. Lead-lag analysis of both the re-analyses and models is used to develop a conceptual model for the formation of each composite phase. This analysis indicates that an equator ward displaced Southern Hemisphere storm track and an eastward displaced equatorial eastern Pacific westerly duct are features of the weak-inflow phase, though as indicated by additional composite analyses based on these features, each appears to account weakly for the details of the low-level inflow composite anomalies. Despite the presence of well-known biases in the CMIP5 simulations of SPCZ region climatologies, the models appear to have some fidelity in simulating synoptic scale relationships among low-level winds, moisture, and precipitation, consistent with observations and simple theoretical understanding of interactions of dry air inflow with deep convection.


I earned a BS in Physics at Texas A&M in 1997.  From 1997-2003, I pursued my graduate studies at UC Berkeley under the direction of Inez Fung, with my dissertation research focusing on the role of atmospheric transport in determining the spatial and temporal variability of trace gases.  After completing my PhD, I moved up two floors for a postdoc with John Chiang, during which I studied the teleconnection between the El Niño/Southern Oscillation and tropical climate.  In 2005, I joined David Neelin’s research group, working on various topics in tropical climate dynamics.  In 2009, I joined the faculty of the Department of Environmental Sciences Rutgers as an Assistant Professor.  I currently serve as the atmospheric sciences graduate program director at Rutgers as well as an associate editor of Journal of Climate.


[1] Lintner, B.R., and J.D. Neelin, 2008: Eastern margin variability of the South Pacific Convergence Zone. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L16701, doi:10.1029/2008GL034298.

[2] Niznik, M.J., and B.R. Lintner, 2013:  Circulation, moisture, and precipitation relationships along the South Pacific Convergence Zone in reanalyses and CMIP5 models.  J. Clim., 26, 10174—10192, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00263.1.

see also:

Kline Geology Laboratory Auditorium, Rm 123 See map
210 Whitney Ave
New Haven, CT 06511


As global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise, there is an increasing risk of serious disruptions in ecosystems due to global warming. As a consequence, research on climate engineering (CE) is receiving growing attention, also among climate scientists. But, even basic CE research using Earth System Models (ESMs) raises a series of ethical questions that need to be considered. Also, CE carries a risk of serious side effects, e.g., concerning the hydrological cycle.

Climate engineering can be divided into Greenhouse Gas Removal and Radiation Management (RM) techniques. RM here refers to the deliberate modification of either incoming solar radiation or outgoing terrestrial radiation. We will review the basic principles of four proposed RM techniques – stratospheric sulfur injections, marine sky brightening, cirrus cloud thinning and desert brightening. We then present recent robust results concerning changes to the hydrological cycle from multi-model ESM experiments within the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP).

We show that the changes in the hydrological cycle depend strongly on which RM technique is applied. For instance, cirrus cloud thinning influences the hydrological cycle in a distinctly different way than techniques that reduce incoming solar radiation. We will demonstrate how that finding can be explained from atmospheric energy budget considerations.