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Research interests


My research examines the processes shaping Earth’s climate and its response to external forcings, such as changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. The ultimate goal of my research is to develop a better understanding of how the constituent elements of Earth’s surface—the oceans, the cryosphere, and the land—interact with the atmosphere and with each other. My work spans a range of subjects within climate dynamics but has a heavy emphasis on sea ice, polar climate, the hydrological cycle, and the general ocean circulation.


I use a range of tools and techniques, including comprehensive Earth system models, targeted experiments in climate models of varying complexity, conceptual models that provide simplified representations of underlying physical processes, and advanced statistical methods.


The field of climate dynamics is inherently interdisciplinary, as the atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere, and land are intimately coupled and influence Earth’s climate on timescales ranging from seasons to millennia. I enjoy working and collaborating on research questions that are at the intersection of these components.

Climate dynamics and climate change

At a global scale, climate change is set by interactions between climate forcings, climate feedbacks, and ocean heat uptake, while at regional scales, atmospheric energy transport and other processes become important. I am interested in the relative importance of these processes and how energy balance models or simple energetic frameworks can be used to infer processes that influence polar-amplified warming, geographical shifts in tropical rainfall, the magnitude of transient warming, or land-sea contrasts. My recent and ongoing work examines: the influence of continental land configurations on the climate response; mechanisms of ocean heat uptake; anthropogenic fingerprints on extreme temperature changes; and sources of uncertainty in the pattern of warming.

Relevant publications

  • D.B. Bonan, K.C. Armour, G.H. Roe, N. Siler, and N. Feldl (2018): Sources of uncertainty in the meridional pattern of climate change.​ Geophysical Research Letters, 45 (17), 9131-9140. doi: 10.1029/2018GL079429

  • R.N. Patel, D.B. Bonan, and T. Schneider (submitted)Changes in temperature extremes largely driven by distribution shift.

Sea ice

Sea ice is a fundamental component of the climate system, influencing Earth's energy balance and atmospheric and oceanic circulations. Both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice have undergone striking changes over the past few decades and are projected to continue to change throughout the next century. One of the goals of my research is to identify processes that control the short- and long- term evolution of sea ice and explain how the sea ice cover in both hemispheres interacts with the atmosphere and oceans. I am also broadly interested in the predictability of sea ice and improving the representation of sea ice in climate models. Recent and ongoing work examines: constraints on Arctic sea ice loss, sources of low-frequency sea ice variability, and mechanisms of seasonal Arctic sea-ice predictability.

Relevant publications

  • D.B. Bonan, M. Bushuk, and M. Winton (2019): A spring barrier for regional predictions of summer Arctic sea ice. Geophysical Research Letters, 46 (11), 5937-5947. doi: 10.1029/2019GL082947

  • M. Bushuk, M. Winton, D.B. Bonan, E. Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, and T. Delworth (2020): A mechanism for the Arctic sea ice spring predictability barrier. Geophysical Research Letters, 47 (13), e2020GL088335. doi: 10.1029/2020GL088335

  • D.B. Bonan, F. Lehner, and M.M. Holland (2021): Partitioning uncertainty in projections of Arctic sea ice. Environmental Research Letters, 16 (4), 044002. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/ABE0EC

  • D.B. Bonan, T. Schneider, I. Eisenman, and R.C.J. Wills (2021): Constraining the date of a seasonally ice-free Arctic using a simple model. Geophysical Research Letters, 48 (18), e2021GL094309. doi: 10.1029/2020GL094309

  • J. Dörr, D.B. Bonan, M. Årthun, L. Svendsen, and R.C.J Wills (2023): Forced and internal components of observed Arctic sea-ice changes. The Cryosphere, 17 (9), 4133-4153. doi: 10.5194/TC-17-4133-2023

  • D.B.​ Bonan, J. Dörr, R.C.J. Wills, A.F. Thompson, and M. Årthun (2024): Sources of low-frequency variability in observed Antarctic sea ice. The Cryosphere, 18 (4), 2141-2159. doi: 10.5194/TC-18-2141-2024

Polar climate

Polar climate dynamics are controlled by both radiative and non-radiative interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, sea ice, ice sheets, and land surfaces. The polar regions are thus highly sensitive to changes in climate forcing and exhibit large internal variability. I am interested in how surface processes in the cryosphere, oceans, and land interact with the atmosphere to shape polar climate change. My recent and ongoing work examines: mechanisms for long-term surface temperature trends; mechanisms for abrupt sea ice and temperature changes;  contributions to high-latitude precipitation change under warming; and contributions of feedbacks and atmospheric heat transport interactions to polar amplification.

Relevant publications

  • D.B. Bonan, N. Feldl, M.D. Zelinka, and L.C. Hahn (2023): Contributions to regional precipitation change and its polar-amplified pattern under warming. Environmental Research: Climate, 2 (3), 035010. doi: 10.1088/2752-5295/ACE27A

  • E.A. Wilson, D.B. Bonan, A.F. Thompson, N. Armstrong, and S.C. Riser (2023): Mechanisms for abrupt summertime circumpolar surface warming in the Southern Ocean. Journal of Climate, 36 (20), 7025-7039. doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-22-0501.1

  • Y. Dong, L.M. Polvani, and D.B. Bonan (2023): Recent multi-decadal Southern Ocean surface cooling unlikely caused by Southern Annular Mode trends. Geophysical Research Letters. 50 (23), e2023GL106142. doi: 10.1029/2023GL106142

Hydrological cycle

The atmospheric hydrological cycle is a crucial component of the climate system, affecting the formation of water masses in the ocean and the amount of runoff or availability of water over the land, which can impact soil moisture, drought, flooding, and wildfires. I am interested in the processes that shape the large-scale patterns of precipitation, evaporation, and relative humidity, including how energetic frameworks can be used to constrain features of the atmospheric circulation or land surface processes. Recent and ongoing work examines: the response of the hydrological cycle to global warming in an energy balance model; the influence of climate feedbacks on regional hydrological changes; and the dynamic and thermodynamic components of regional hydrological changes.

Relevant publications

  • D.B. Bonan, N. Siler, G.H. Roe, and K.C. Armour (2023): Energetic constraints on the pattern of changes to the hydrological cycle under global warming. Journal of Climate, 36 (10), 3499-3522. doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-22-0337.1

  • N. Siler, D.B. Bonan, and A. Donohoe (2023): Diagnosing mechanisms of hydrologic change under global warming in the CESM1 Large Ensemble. Journal of Climate, 36 (23), 8243-8257. doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-23-0086.1

  • D.B. Bonan, N. Feldl, N. Siler, J.E. Kay, K.C. Armour, I. Eisenman, and G.H. Roe (2024): The influence of climate feedbacks on regional hydrological changes under global warming. ​​Geophysical Research Letters, 51 (3), e2023GL106648. doi: 10.1029/2023GL106648

  • D.B. Bonan, T. Schneider, and J. Zhu (submitted): Precipitation over a wide range of climates simulated with comprehensive GCMs.

Ocean circulation

The ocean's global overturning circulation regulates Earth's climate by transporting heat between hemispheres, influencing the rate of ocean heat and carbon uptake, and ventilating the interior of the ocean. Sparse observations necessitates the use of conceptual models that help to reveal primary controls on the ocean's deep stratification and overturning circulation. I am interested in understanding the processes that control the short- and long-term evolution of the ocean circulation. My recent and ongoing work examines: how the ocean's global overturning circulation responds to warming on centennial-to-millennial timescales; constraints on the strength of the ocean's global overturning circulation; and the role of low-latitude surface forcing in transitions of the oceans's global overturning circulation in past climates.

Relevant publications

  • D.B. Bonan, A.F. Thompson, E.R. Newsom, S. Sun, and M. Rugenstein (2022): Transient and equilibrium responses of the Atlantic overturning circulation to warming in coupled climate models: the role of temperature and salinity. Journal of Climate, 35 (15), 5173-5193. doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-21-0912.1

  • M.S. Nayak, D.B. Bonan, E.R. Newsom, and A.F. Thompson (2024): Controls on the strength and structure of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation in climate models. Geophysical Research Letters, 51 (10), e2024GL109055. doi: 10.1029/2024GL109055

  • D.B. Bonan, A.F. Thompson, T. Schneider, L. Zanna, K.C. Armour, and S. Sun (submitted): Constraints imply limited future weakening of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation.

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