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Title: Midlatitude Cloud Radiative Effect Sensitivity to Cloud Controlling Factors in Observations and Models: Relationship with Southern Hemisphere Jet Shifts and Climate Sensitivity
Abstract An effective method to understand cloud processes and to assess the fidelity with which they are represented in climate models is the cloud controlling factor framework, in which cloud properties are linked with variations in large-scale dynamical and thermodynamical variables. This study examines how midlatitude cloud radiative effects (CRE) over oceans co-vary with four cloud controlling factors: mid-tropospheric vertical velocity, estimated inversion strength (EIS), near-surface temperature advection, and sea surface temperature (SST), and assesses their representation in CMIP6 models with respect to observations and CMIP5 models. CMIP5 and CMIP6 models overestimate the sensitivity of midlatitude CRE to perturbations in vertical velocity, and underestimate the sensitivity of midlatitude shortwave CRE to perturbations in EIS and temperature advection. The largest improvement in CMIP6 models is a reduced sensitivity of CRE to vertical velocity perturbations. As in CMIP5 models, many CMIP6 models simulate a shortwave cloud radiative warming effect associated with a poleward shift in the Southern Hemisphere (SH) midlatitude jet stream, an effect not present in observations. This bias arises because most models’ shortwave CRE are too sensitive to vertical velocity perturbations and not sensitive enough to EIS perturbations, and because most models overestimate the SST anomalies associated with SH jet more » shifts. The presence of this bias directly impacts the transient surface temperature response to increasing greenhouse gases over the Southern Ocean, but not the global-mean surface temperature. Instead, the models’ climate sensitivity is correlated with their shortwave CRE sensitivity to surface temperature advection perturbations near 40°S, with models with more realistic values of temperature advection sensitivity generally having higher climate sensitivity. « less
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Journal Name:
Journal of Climate
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1 to 59
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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    Clouds and their associated radiative effects are a large source of uncertainty in global climate models. One region with particularly large model biases in shortwave cloud radiative effects (CRE) is the Southern Ocean. Previous research has shown that many dynamical “cloud controlling factors” influence shortwave CRE on monthly time scales and that two important cloud controlling factors over the Southern Ocean are midtropospheric vertical velocity and estimated inversion strength (EIS). Model errors may thus arise from biases in representing cloud controlling factors (atmospheric dynamics) or in representing how clouds respond to those cloud controlling factors (cloud parameterizations), or some combination thereof. This study extends previous work by examining cloud controlling factors over the Southern Ocean on daily time scales in both observations and global climate models. This allows the cloud controlling factors to be examined in the context of transient weather systems. Composites of EIS and midtropospheric vertical velocity are constructed around extratropical cyclones and anticyclones to examine how the different dynamical cloud controlling factors influence shortwave CRE around midlatitude weather systems and to assess how models compare to observations. On average, models tend to produce a realistic cyclone and anticyclone, when compared to observations, in terms of themore »dynamical cloud controlling factors. The difference between observations and models instead lies in how the models’ shortwave CRE respond to the dynamics. In particular, the models’ shortwave CRE are too sensitive to perturbations in midtropospheric vertical velocity and, thus, they tend to produce clouds that excessively brighten in the frontal region of the cyclone and excessively dim in the center of the anticyclone.

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