Variability in the strength of low-cloud feedbacks across climate models is the primary contributor to the spread in their estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS). This raises the question: What are the regional implications for key features of tropical climate of globally weak versus strong low-cloud feedbacks in response to greenhouse gas–induced warming? To address this question and formalize our understanding of cloud controls on tropical climate, we perform a suite of idealized fully coupled and slab-ocean climate simulations across which we systematically scale the strength of the low-cloud-cover feedback under abrupt 2 × CO2forcing within a single model, thereby isolating the impact of low-cloud feedback strength. The feedback strength is varied by modifying the stratus cloud fraction so that it is a function of not only local conditions but also global temperature in a series of abrupt 2 × CO2sensitivity experiments. The unperturbed decrease in low cloud cover (LCC) under 2 × CO2is greatest in the mid- and high-latitude oceans, and the subtropical eastern Pacific and Atlantic, a pattern that is magnified as the feedback strength is scaled. Consequently, sea surface temperature (SST) increases more in these regions as well as the Pacific cold tongue. As the strength ofmore »
The sensitivity of the climate to CO2forcing depends on spatially varying radiative feedbacks that act both locally and nonlocally. We assess whether a method employing multiple regression can be used to estimate local and nonlocal radiative feedbacks from internal variability. We test this method on millennial-length simulations performed with six coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs). Given the spatial pattern of warming, the method does quite well at recreating the top-of-atmosphere flux response for most regions of Earth, except over the Southern Ocean where it consistently overestimates the change, leading to an overestimate of the sensitivity. For five of the six models, the method finds that local feedbacks are positive due to cloud processes, balanced by negative nonlocal shortwave cloud feedbacks associated with regions of tropical convection. For four of these models, the magnitudes of both are comparable to the Planck feedback, so that changes in the ratio between them could lead to large changes in climate sensitivity. The positive local feedback explains why observational studies that estimate spatial feedbacks using only local regressions predict an unstable climate. The method implies that sensitivity in these AOGCMs increases over time due to a reduction in the share of warming occurring in more »
- Publication Date:
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Journal Name:
- Journal of Climate
- Page Range or eLocation-ID:
- p. 4121-4140
- American Meteorological Society
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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