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Computing and Partitioning Cloud Feedbacks Using Cloud Property Histograms. Part II: Attribution to Changes in Cloud Amount, Altitude, and Optical Depth

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, and Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California
  • | 2 Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Cloud radiative kernels and histograms of cloud fraction, both as functions of cloud-top pressure and optical depth, are used to quantify cloud amount, altitude, and optical depth feedbacks. The analysis is applied to doubled-CO2 simulations from 11 global climate models in the Cloud Feedback Model Intercomparison Project.

Global, annual, and ensemble mean longwave (LW) and shortwave (SW) cloud feedbacks are positive, with the latter nearly twice as large as the former. The robust increase in cloud-top altitude in both the tropics and extratropics is the dominant contributor to the positive LW cloud feedback. The negative impact of reductions in cloud amount offsets more than half of the positive impact of rising clouds on LW cloud feedback, but the magnitude of compensation varies considerably across the models. In contrast, robust reductions in cloud amount make a large and virtually unopposed positive contribution to SW cloud feedback, though the intermodel spread is greater than for any other individual feedback component. Overall reductions in cloud amount have twice as large an impact on SW fluxes as on LW fluxes, such that the net cloud amount feedback is moderately positive, with no models exhibiting a negative value. As a consequence of large but partially offsetting effects of cloud amount reductions on LW and SW feedbacks, both the mean and intermodel spread in net cloud amount feedback are smaller than those of the net cloud altitude feedback. Finally, the study finds that the large negative cloud feedback at high latitudes results from robust increases in cloud optical depth, not from increases in total cloud amount as is commonly assumed.

Corresponding author address: Mark D. Zelinka, Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 7000 East Avenue, L-103, Livermore, CA 94551. E-mail: zelinka1@llnl.gov

Abstract

Cloud radiative kernels and histograms of cloud fraction, both as functions of cloud-top pressure and optical depth, are used to quantify cloud amount, altitude, and optical depth feedbacks. The analysis is applied to doubled-CO2 simulations from 11 global climate models in the Cloud Feedback Model Intercomparison Project.

Global, annual, and ensemble mean longwave (LW) and shortwave (SW) cloud feedbacks are positive, with the latter nearly twice as large as the former. The robust increase in cloud-top altitude in both the tropics and extratropics is the dominant contributor to the positive LW cloud feedback. The negative impact of reductions in cloud amount offsets more than half of the positive impact of rising clouds on LW cloud feedback, but the magnitude of compensation varies considerably across the models. In contrast, robust reductions in cloud amount make a large and virtually unopposed positive contribution to SW cloud feedback, though the intermodel spread is greater than for any other individual feedback component. Overall reductions in cloud amount have twice as large an impact on SW fluxes as on LW fluxes, such that the net cloud amount feedback is moderately positive, with no models exhibiting a negative value. As a consequence of large but partially offsetting effects of cloud amount reductions on LW and SW feedbacks, both the mean and intermodel spread in net cloud amount feedback are smaller than those of the net cloud altitude feedback. Finally, the study finds that the large negative cloud feedback at high latitudes results from robust increases in cloud optical depth, not from increases in total cloud amount as is commonly assumed.

Corresponding author address: Mark D. Zelinka, Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 7000 East Avenue, L-103, Livermore, CA 94551. E-mail: zelinka1@llnl.gov
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