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Erik J. L. Larson and Robert W. Portmann
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Erik J. L. Larson and Robert W. Portmann

Abstract

Effective radiative forcing (ERF) is calculated as the flux change at the top of the atmosphere after allowing rapid adjustments resulting from a forcing agent, such as greenhouse gases. Rapid adjustments include changes to atmospheric temperature, water vapor, and clouds. Accurate estimates of ERF are necessary in order to understand the drivers of climate change. This work presents a new method of calculating ERF using a kernel derived from the time series of a model variable (e.g., global mean surface temperature) in a model-step change experiment. The top-of-atmosphere (TOA) radiative imbalance has the best noise tolerance for retrieving the ERF of the model variables tested. This temporal kernel method is compared with an energy balance method, which equates ERF to the TOA radiative imbalance plus the scaled surface temperature change. Sensitivities and biases of these methods are quantified using output from phase 5 of the the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). The temporal kernel method is likely more accurate for models in which a linear fit is a poor approximation for the relationship between temperature change and TOA imbalance. The difference between these methods is most apparent in forcing estimates for the representative concentration pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) scenario. The CMIP5 multimodel mean ERF calculated for large volcanic eruptions is 80% of the adjusted forcing reported by the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). This suggests that about 5% more energy has come into the earth system since 1870 than suggested by the IPCC AR5.

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Daniel M. Gilford, Susan Solomon, and Robert W. Portmann

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An abrupt drop in tropical tropopause layer (TTL) water vapor, similar to that observed in 2000, recently occurred in 2011, and was concurrent with reductions in TTL temperature and ozone. Previous studies have indicated that such large water vapor variability can have significant radiative impacts. This study uses Aura Microwave Limb Sounder observations, the Stratospheric Water Vapor and Ozone Satellite Homogenized dataset, and two radiative transfer models to examine the radiative effects of the observed changes in TTL water vapor and ozone on TTL temperatures and global radiative forcing (RF). The analyses herein suggest that quasi-isentropic poleward propagation of TTL water vapor reductions results in a zonal-mean structure with “wings” of extratropical water vapor reductions, which account for about half of the 2011 abrupt drop global radiative impact. RF values associated with the mean water vapor concentrations differences between 2012/13 and 2010/11 are between −0.01 and −0.09 W m−2, depending upon the altitude above which perturbations are considered. TTL water vapor and ozone variability during this period jointly lead to a transient radiative cooling of ~0.25–0.5 K in layers below the tropopause. The 2011 abrupt drop also prolonged the reduction in stratospheric water vapor that followed the 2000 abrupt drop, providing a longer-term radiative forcing of climate. Water vapor concentrations from 2005 to 2013 are lower than those from 1990 to 1999, resulting in a RF between these periods of about −0.045 W m−2, approximately 12% as large as, but of opposite sign to, the concurrent estimated CO2 forcing.

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Ying Sun, Susan Solomon, Aiguo Dai, and Robert W. Portmann

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Daily precipitation data from worldwide stations and gridded analyses and from 18 coupled global climate models are used to evaluate the models' performance in simulating the precipitation frequency, intensity, and the number of rainy days contributing to most (i.e., 67%) of the annual precipitation total. Although the models examined here are able to simulate the land precipitation amount well, most of them are unable to reproduce the spatial patterns of the precipitation frequency and intensity. For light precipitation (1–10 mm day−1), most models overestimate the frequency but produce patterns of the intensity that are in broad agreement with observations. In contrast, for heavy precipitation (>10 mm day−1), most models considerably underestimate the intensity but simulate the frequency relatively well. The average number of rainy days contributing to most of the annual precipitation is a simple index that captures the combined effects of precipitation frequency and intensity on the water supply. The different measures of precipitation characteristics examined in this paper reveal region-to-region differences in the observations and models of relevance for climate variability, water resources, and climate change.

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Ying Sun, Susan Solomon, Aiguo Dai, and Robert W. Portmann

Abstract

Daily precipitation data from climate change simulations using the latest generation of coupled climate system models are analyzed for potential future changes in precipitation characteristics. For the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) B1 (a low projection), A1B (a medium projection), and A2 (a high projection) during the twenty-first century, all the models consistently show a shift toward more intense and extreme precipitation for the globe as a whole and over various regions. For both SRES B1 and A2, most models show decreased daily precipitation frequency and all the models show increased daily precipitation intensity. The multimodel averaged percentage increase in the precipitation intensity (2.0% K−1) is larger than the magnitude of the precipitation frequency decrease (−0.7% K−1). However, the shift in precipitation frequency distribution toward extremes results in large increases in very heavy precipitation events (>50 mm day−1), so that for very heavy precipitation, the percentage increase in frequency is much larger than the increase in intensity (31.2% versus 2.4%). The climate model projected increases in daily precipitation intensity are, however, smaller than that based on simple thermodynamics (∼7% K−1). Multimodel ensemble means show that precipitation amount increases during the twenty-first century over high latitudes, as well as over currently wet regions in low- and midlatitudes more than other regions. This increase mostly results from a combination of increased frequency and intensity. Over the dry regions in the subtropics, the precipitation amount generally declines because of decreases in both frequency and intensity. This indicates that wet regions may get wetter and dry regions may become drier mostly because of a simultaneous increase (decrease) of precipitation frequency and intensity.

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