A variable-resolution option has been added within the spectral element (SE) dynamical core of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)–NCAR Community Atmosphere Model (CAM). CAM-SE allows for static refinement via conforming quadrilateral meshes on the cubed sphere. This paper investigates the effect of mesh refinement in a climate model by running variable-resolution (var-res) simulations on an aquaplanet. The variable-resolution grid is a 2° (~222 km) grid with a refined patch of 0.25° (~28 km) resolution centered at the equator. Climatology statistics from these simulations are compared to globally uniform runs of 2° and 0.25°.
A significant resolution dependence exists when using the CAM version 4 (CAM4) subgrid physical parameterization package across scales. Global cloud fraction decreases and equatorial precipitation increases with finer horizontal resolution, resulting in drastically different climates between the uniform grid runs and a physics-induced grid imprinting in the var-res simulation. Using CAM version 5 (CAM5) physics significantly improves cloud scaling at different grid resolutions. Additional precipitation at the equator in the high-resolution mesh results in collocated zonally anomalous divergence in both var-res simulations, although this feature is much weaker in CAM5 than CAM4. The equilibrium solution at each grid spacing within the var-res simulations captures the majority of the resolution signal of the corresponding globally uniform grids. The var-res simulation exhibits good performance with respect to wave propagation, including equatorial regions where waves pass through grid transitions. In addition, the increased frequency of high-precipitation events in the refined 0.25° area within the var-res simulations matches that observed in the global 0.25° simulations.