Abstract

Radiative feedbacks depend on the spatial patterns of sea surface temperature (SST) and thus can change over time as SST patterns evolve—the so-called pattern effect. This study investigates intermodel differences in the magnitude of the pattern effect and how these differences contribute to the spread in effective equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) within CMIP5 and CMIP6 models. Effective ECS in CMIP5 estimated from 150-yr-long abrupt4×CO2 simulations is on average 10% higher than that estimated from the early portion (first 50 years) of those simulations, which serves as an analog for historical warming; this difference is reduced to 7% on average in CMIP6. The (negative) net radiative feedback weakens over the course of the abrupt4×CO2 simulations in the vast majority of CMIP5 and CMIP6 models, but this weakening is less dramatic on average in CMIP6. For both ensembles, the total variance in the effective ECS is found to be dominated by the spread in radiative response on fast time scales, rather than the spread in feedback changes. Using Green’s functions derived from two AGCMs shows that the spread in feedbacks on fast time scales may be primarily due to differences in atmospheric model physics, whereas the spread in feedback evolution is primarily governed by differences in SST patterns. Intermodel spread in feedback evolution is well explained by differences in the relative warming in the west Pacific warm-pool regions for the CMIP5 models, but this relation fails to explain differences across the CMIP6 models, suggesting that a stronger sensitivity of extratropical clouds to surface warming may also contribute to feedback changes in CMIP6.

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