On the compensation between cloud feedback and cloud adjustment in climate models

Abstract

Intermodel compensation between cloud feedback and rapid cloud adjustment has important implications for the range of model-inferred climate sensitivity. Although this negative intermodel correlation exists in both realistic (e.g., coupled ocean–atmosphere models) and idealized (e.g., aqua-planet) model configurations, the compensation appears to be stronger in the latter. The cause of the compensation between feedback and adjustment, and its dependence on model configuration remain poorly understood. In this study, we examine the characteristics of the cloud feedback and adjustment in model simulations with differing complexity, and analyze the causes responsible for their compensation. We show that in all model configurations, the intermodel compensation between cloud feedback and cloud adjustment largely results from offsetting changes in marine boundary-layer clouds. The greater prevalence of these cloud types in aqua-planet models is a likely contributor to the larger correlation between feedback and adjustment in those configurations. It is also shown that differing circulation changes in the aqua-planet configuration of some models act to amplify the intermodel range and sensitivity of the cloud radiative response by about a factor of 2.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Table S1 of this study) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. Model output analyzed in this study is available from the Earth System Grid Federation (http://cmip-pcmdi.llnl.gov/cmip5/). We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive and valuable comments which led to an improved version of the manuscript. This study was supported by grants from the NASA ROSES Program.

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Correspondence to Eui-Seok Chung.

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Chung, ES., Soden, B.J. On the compensation between cloud feedback and cloud adjustment in climate models. Clim Dyn 50, 1267–1276 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-017-3682-1

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Keywords

  • Cloud feedback
  • Rapid cloud adjustment
  • Compensation
  • Marine boundary layer clouds
  • Coupled ocean–atmosphere simulations
  • Atmosphere-only simulations