Meehl, G. A., R. Lukas, G. Kiladis, K. Weickmann, A. Matthews, and M. Wheeler, 2001: A conceptual framework for time and space scale interactions in the climate system. Climate Dynamics, 17, 753-775.


Interactions involving various time and space scales, both within the tropics and between the tropics and midlatitudes, are ubiquitous in the climate system. We propose a conceptual framework for understanding such interactions whereby longer time scales and larger space scales set the base state for processes on shorter time scales and smaller space scales, which in turn have an influence back on the longer time scales and larger space scales in a continuum of process-related interactions. Though not intended to be comprehensive, we do cite examples from the literature to provide evidence for the validity of this framework. Decadal time scale base states of the coupled climate system set the context for the manifestation of interannual time scales (El Niño/ Southern Oscillation, ENSO and tropospheric biennial oscillation, TBO) which are influenced by and interact with the annual cycle and seasonal time scales. Those base states in turn influence the large-scale coupled processes involved with intraseasonal and submonthly time scales, tied to interactions within the tropics and extratropics, and tropical-midlatitude teleconnections. All of these set the base state for processes on the synoptic and mesoscale and regional/local space scales. Events at those relatively short time scales and small space scales may then affect the longer time scale and larges space scale processes in turn, reaching back out to submonthly, intraseasonal, seasonal, annual, TBO, ENSO and decadal. Global coupled models can capture some elements of the decadal, ENSO, TBO, annual and seasonal time scales with the associated global space scales. However, coupled models are less successful at simulating phenomena at subseasonal and shorter time scales with hemispheric and smaller space scales. In the context of the proposed conceptual framework, the synergistic interactions of the time and space scales suggest that a high priority must be placed on improved simulations of all of the time and space scales in the climate system. This is particularly important for the subseasonal time scales and hemispheric and smaller space scales, which are not well simulated at present, to improve the prospects of successfully forecasting phenomena beyond the synoptic scales.