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Separation of Contributions from Radiative Feedbacks to Polar Amplification on an Aquaplanet

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  • 1 Centre for Ice and Climate, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • | 2 Department of Meteorology (MISU), Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
  • | 3 Max Planck Institut für Meteorologie, Hamburg, Germany
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Abstract

When climate is forced by a doubling of CO2, a number of feedback processes are induced, such as changes of water vapor, clouds, and surface albedo. Here the CO2 forcing and concomitant feedbacks are studied individually using a general circulation model coupled to an aquaplanet mixed layer ocean. A technique for fixing the radiative effects of moisture and clouds by reusing these variables from 1 × CO2 and 2 × CO2 equilibrium climates in the model’s radiation code allows for a detailed decomposition of forcings, feedbacks, and responses. The cloud feedback in this model is found to have a weak global average effect and surface albedo feedbacks have been eliminated. As in previous studies, the water vapor feedback is found to approximately double climate sensitivity, but while its radiative effect is strongly amplified at low latitudes, the resulting response displays about the same degree of polar amplification as the full all-feedbacks experiment. In fact, atmospheric energy transports are found to change in a way that yields the same meridional pattern of response as when the water vapor feedback is turned off. The authors conclude that while the water vapor feedback does not in itself lead to polar amplification by increasing the ratio of high- to low-latitude warming, it does double climate sensitivity both at low and high latitudes. A polar amplification induced by other feedbacks in the system, such as the Planck and lapse rate feedbacks here, is thus strengthened in the sense of increasing the difference in high- and low-latitude warming.

Corresponding author address: Peter L. Langen, Centre for Ice and Climate, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Juliane Maries Vej 30, DK-2100 Copenhagen O, Denmark. E-mail: plangen@gfy.ku.dk

Abstract

When climate is forced by a doubling of CO2, a number of feedback processes are induced, such as changes of water vapor, clouds, and surface albedo. Here the CO2 forcing and concomitant feedbacks are studied individually using a general circulation model coupled to an aquaplanet mixed layer ocean. A technique for fixing the radiative effects of moisture and clouds by reusing these variables from 1 × CO2 and 2 × CO2 equilibrium climates in the model’s radiation code allows for a detailed decomposition of forcings, feedbacks, and responses. The cloud feedback in this model is found to have a weak global average effect and surface albedo feedbacks have been eliminated. As in previous studies, the water vapor feedback is found to approximately double climate sensitivity, but while its radiative effect is strongly amplified at low latitudes, the resulting response displays about the same degree of polar amplification as the full all-feedbacks experiment. In fact, atmospheric energy transports are found to change in a way that yields the same meridional pattern of response as when the water vapor feedback is turned off. The authors conclude that while the water vapor feedback does not in itself lead to polar amplification by increasing the ratio of high- to low-latitude warming, it does double climate sensitivity both at low and high latitudes. A polar amplification induced by other feedbacks in the system, such as the Planck and lapse rate feedbacks here, is thus strengthened in the sense of increasing the difference in high- and low-latitude warming.

Corresponding author address: Peter L. Langen, Centre for Ice and Climate, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Juliane Maries Vej 30, DK-2100 Copenhagen O, Denmark. E-mail: plangen@gfy.ku.dk
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