Model-Specific Radiative Kernels for Calculating Cloud and Noncloud Climate Feedbacks

Benjamin M. Sanderson National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado

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Karen M. Shell College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

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Abstract

Radiative kernels have become a common tool for evaluating and comparing radiative feedbacks to climate change in different general circulation models. However, kernel feedback calculations are inaccurate for simulations where the atmosphere is significantly perturbed from its base state, such as for very large forcing or perturbed physics simulations. In addition, past analyses have not produced kernels relating to prognostic cloud variables because of strong nonlinearities in their relationship to radiative forcing. A new methodology is presented that allows for fast statistical optimizing of existing kernels such that accuracy is increased for significantly altered climatologies. International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) simulator output is used to relate changes in cloud-type histograms to radiative fluxes. With minimal additional computation, an individual set of kernels is created for each climate experiment such that climate feedbacks can be reliably estimated even in significantly perturbed climates.

This methodology is applied to successive generations of the Community Atmosphere Model (CAM). Increased climate sensitivity in CAM5 is shown to be due to reduced negative stratus and stratocumulus feedbacks in the tropics and midlatitudes, strong positive stratus feedbacks in the southern oceans, and a strengthened positive longwave cirrus feedback. Results also suggest that CAM5 exhibits a stronger surface albedo feedback than its predecessors, a feature not apparent when using a single kernel. Optimized kernels for CAM5 suggest weaker global-mean shortwave cloud feedback than one would infer from using the original kernels and an adjusted cloud radiative forcing methodology.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Benjamin Sanderson, NCAR, 1850 Table Mesa Dr., Boulder, CO 80305. E-mail: bsander@ucar.edu

Abstract

Radiative kernels have become a common tool for evaluating and comparing radiative feedbacks to climate change in different general circulation models. However, kernel feedback calculations are inaccurate for simulations where the atmosphere is significantly perturbed from its base state, such as for very large forcing or perturbed physics simulations. In addition, past analyses have not produced kernels relating to prognostic cloud variables because of strong nonlinearities in their relationship to radiative forcing. A new methodology is presented that allows for fast statistical optimizing of existing kernels such that accuracy is increased for significantly altered climatologies. International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) simulator output is used to relate changes in cloud-type histograms to radiative fluxes. With minimal additional computation, an individual set of kernels is created for each climate experiment such that climate feedbacks can be reliably estimated even in significantly perturbed climates.

This methodology is applied to successive generations of the Community Atmosphere Model (CAM). Increased climate sensitivity in CAM5 is shown to be due to reduced negative stratus and stratocumulus feedbacks in the tropics and midlatitudes, strong positive stratus feedbacks in the southern oceans, and a strengthened positive longwave cirrus feedback. Results also suggest that CAM5 exhibits a stronger surface albedo feedback than its predecessors, a feature not apparent when using a single kernel. Optimized kernels for CAM5 suggest weaker global-mean shortwave cloud feedback than one would infer from using the original kernels and an adjusted cloud radiative forcing methodology.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Benjamin Sanderson, NCAR, 1850 Table Mesa Dr., Boulder, CO 80305. E-mail: bsander@ucar.edu
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