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Adrian M. Tompkins and George C. Craig


The response of convection to changing sea surface temperature (SST) in the absence of large-scale flow is examined, using a three-dimensional cloud resolving model. The model includes a five-category bulk microphysical scheme representing snow, ice, graupel, rain, and cloud amounts in addition to an interactive radiation scheme for the shortwave and infrared. Long integrations are made to achieve a radiative–convective equilibrium state for SSTs of 298, 300, and 302 K, for which cloud and convection statistics are analyzed.

The main conclusion of the paper is that, despite significant temperature sensitivities in many of the conversion terms between bulk water categories, convection is very insensitive to changing SST in the absence of large-scale flow. This is a result of the moist adiabatic temperature profile that the tropical atmosphere is constrained to take. A parcel of air rising through a deep convective cloud experiences approximately the same range of temperatures but at higher altitudes as SST increases. Thus the vertical profiles of cloud fraction and other cloud-related statistics are simply shifted in height, but not changed in overall magnitude.

The small changes in cloud properties that do occur lead to a small reduction in cloud fraction as SST increases. This appears to be due to an increase in graupel amounts with respect to snow, giving smaller cloud fractions since graupel has a higher fall velocity. The radiative effects of the changes in atmospheric properties are examined and it is found that the model atmosphere exhibits no supergreenhouse effect since atmospheric relative humidity is not altered significantly by the SST changes. The water vapor feedback effect is largely canceled by the change in temperature. Clouds have a negligibly small, but highly nonlinear, feedback in the model climate, in the absence of large-scale flow.

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