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Piers Mde F. Forster and Karl E. Taylor

Abstract

A simple technique is proposed for calculating global mean climate forcing from transient integrations of coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs). This “climate forcing” differs from the conventionally defined radiative forcing as it includes semidirect effects that account for certain short time scale responses in the troposphere. First, a climate feedback term is calculated from reported values of 2 × CO2 radiative forcing and surface temperature time series from 70-yr simulations by 20 AOGCMs. In these simulations carbon dioxide is increased by 1% yr−1. The derived climate feedback agrees well with values that are diagnosed from equilibrium climate change experiments of slab-ocean versions of the same models. These climate feedback terms are associated with the fast, quasi-linear response of lapse rate, clouds, water vapor, and albedo to global surface temperature changes. The importance of the feedbacks is gauged by their impact on the radiative fluxes at the top of the atmosphere. Partial compensation is found between longwave and shortwave feedback terms that lessens the intermodel differences in the equilibrium climate sensitivity. There is also some indication that the AOGCMs overestimate the strength of the positive longwave feedback.

These feedback terms are then used to infer the shortwave and longwave time series of climate forcing in twentieth- and twenty-first-century simulations in the AOGCMs. The technique is validated using conventionally calculated forcing time series from four AOGCMs. In these AOGCMs the shortwave and longwave climate forcings that are diagnosed agree with the conventional forcing time series within ∼10%. The shortwave forcing time series exhibit order of magnitude variations between the AOGCMs, differences likely related to how both natural forcings and/or anthropogenic aerosol effects are included. There are also factor of 2 differences in the longwave climate forcing time series, which may indicate problems with the modeling of well-mixed greenhouse gas changes. The simple diagnoses presented provides an important and useful first step for understanding differences in AOGCM integrations, indicating that some of the differences in model projections can be attributed to different prescribed climate forcing, even for so-called standard climate change scenarios.

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Piers Mde F. Forster and Jonathan M. Gregory

Abstract

One of the major uncertainties in the ability to predict future climate change, and hence its impacts, is the lack of knowledge of the earth’s climate sensitivity. Here, data are combined from the 1985–96 Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) with surface temperature change information and estimates of radiative forcing to diagnose the climate sensitivity. Importantly, the estimate is completely independent of climate model results. A climate feedback parameter of 2.3 ± 1.4 W m−2 K−1 is found. This corresponds to a 1.0–4.1-K range for the equilibrium warming due to a doubling of carbon dioxide (assuming Gaussian errors in observable parameters, which is approximately equivalent to a uniform “prior” in feedback parameter). The uncertainty range is due to a combination of the short time period for the analysis as well as uncertainties in the surface temperature time series and radiative forcing time series, mostly the former. Radiative forcings may not all be fully accounted for; however, an argument is presented that the estimate of climate sensitivity is still likely to be representative of longer-term climate change. The methodology can be used to 1) retrieve shortwave and longwave components of climate feedback and 2) suggest clear-sky and cloud feedback terms. There is preliminary evidence of a neutral or even negative longwave feedback in the observations, suggesting that current climate models may not be representing some processes correctly if they give a net positive longwave feedback.

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