The large spread of the response to anthropogenic forcing simulated by state-of-the-art climate models in the Arctic is investigated. A feedback analysis framework specific to the Arctic is developed to address this issue. The feedback analysis shows that a large part of the spread of Arctic climate change is explained by the longwave feedback parameter. The large spread of the negative longwave feedback parameter is in turn mainly due to variations in temperature feedback. The vertical temperature structure of the atmosphere in the Arctic, characterized by a surface inversion during wintertime, exerts a strong control on the temperature feedback and consequently on simulated Arctic climate change. Most current climate models likely overestimate the climatological strength of the inversion, leading to excessive negative longwave feedback. The authors conclude that the models’ near-equilibrium response to anthropogenic forcing is generally too small.
Climate change is expected to cause a reduction in the spatial extent of snow cover on land. Recent work suggests that this will exert a local influence on the atmosphere and the hydrology of snow‐margin areas through the snow‐albedo feedback (SAF) mechanism. A significant fraction of variability among IPCC AR4 general circulation model (GCM) predictions for future summertime climate change over these areas is related to the models' representation of springtime SAF. In this study, we demonstrate a nonlocal influence of SAF on the summertime circulation in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere. Increased land surface warming in models with stronger SAF is associated with large‐scale sea‐level pressure anomalies over the northern oceans and a poleward intensified subtropical jet. We find that up to 25–30% and, on average, 5–10% of the inter‐model spread in projections of the circulation response to climate change is linearly related to SAF strength.
Biologically produced dimethylsulfide (DMS) is an important source of sulfur to the marine atmosphere that may affect cloud formation and properties. DMS is involved in a complex set of biochemical transformations and ecological exchanges so its global distribution is influenced by numerous factors, including oxidative stress from UV radiation. We re‐examine correlations between global surface DMS concentrations and mixed layer solar radiation dose (SRD), and find that SRD accounts for only a very small fraction (14%) of total variance in DMS measurements when using minimal aggregation methods. Moreover this relationship arises in part from the fact that when mixed layers deepen, both SRD and DMS decrease. When we control for this confounding effect, the correlation between DMS and SRD is reduced even further. These results indicate that factors other than solar irradiance play a leading role in determining global DMS emissions.
The Arctic climate is changing rapidly1. From 1979 to 2006, September sea-ice extent decreased by almost 25% or about 100,000 km2 per year (ref. 2). In September 2007, Arctic sea-ice extent reached its lowest level since satellite observations began3and in September 2008, sea-ice cover was still low. This development has raised concerns that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in late summer in only a few decades, with important economic and geopolitical implications. Unfortunately, most current climate models underestimate significantly the observed trend in Arctic sea-ice decline4, leading to doubts regarding their projections for the timing of ice-free conditions. Here we analyse the simulated trends in past sea-ice cover in 18 state-of-art-climate models and find a direct relationship between the simulated evolution of September sea-ice cover over the twenty-first century and the magnitude of past trends in sea-ice cover. Using this relationship together with observed trends, we project the evolution of September sea-ice cover over the twenty-first century. We find that under a scenario with medium future greenhouse-gas emissions, the Arctic Ocean will probably be ice-free in September before the end of the twenty-first century.
Two main mechanisms can potentially explain the spread in the magnitude of global warming simulated by climate models: deep ocean heat uptake and climate feedbacks. Here, we show that deep oceanic heat uptake is a major source of spread in simulations of 21st century climate change. Models with deeper baseline polar mixed layers are associated with larger deep ocean warming and smaller global surface warming. Based on this result, we set forth an observational constraint on polar vertical oceanic mixing. This constraint suggests that many models may overestimate the efficiency of polar oceanic mixing and therefore may underestimate future surface warming. Thus to reduce climate change uncertainties at time‐scales relevant for policy‐making, improved understanding and modelling of oceanic mixing at high latitudes is crucial.
Observation based estimates of controls on snow albedo feedback (SAF) are needed to constrain the snow and albedo parameterizations in general circulation model (GCM) projections of air temperature over the Northern Hemisphere (NH) landmass. The total April‐May NH SAF, corresponding to the sum of the effect of temperature on surface albedo over snow covered surfaces (‘metamorphism’) and over surfaces transitioning from snow covered to snow free conditions (‘snow cover’), is derived with daily NH snow cover and surface albedo products using Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer Polar Pathfinder satellite data and surface air temperature from ERA40 reanalysis data between 1982–1999. Without using snow cover information, the estimated total SAF, for land surfaces north of 30°N, of −0.93 ± 0.06%K−1 was not significantly different (95% confidence) from estimates based on International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project surface albedo data. The SAF, constrained to only snow covered areas, grew to −1.06 ± 0.08%K−1 with similar magnitudes for the ‘snow cover’ and ‘metamorphosis’ components. The SAF pattern was significantly correlated with the ‘snow cover’ component pattern over both North America and Eurasia but only over Eurasia for the ‘metamorphosis’ component. However, in contrast to GCM model based diagnoses of SAF, the control on the ‘snow cover’ component related to the albedo contrast of snow covered and snow free surfaces was not strongly correlated to the total SAF.
Across vast, agriculturally intensive regions of the United States, the spread in predictions of summer temperature and soil moisture under global warming is curiously elevated in current climate models. Some models show modest warming of 2–3C° and little drying or slight moistening by the 22nd century, while at the other extreme are simulations with warming as large as 7–8C° and 20–40% reductions in soil moisture. We show this region of large spread arises from differences in simulations of snow albedo feedback. During winter and early spring, models with strong snow albedo feedback exhibit large reductions in snowpack and hence water storage. This water deficit persists in summer soil moisture, with reduced evapotranspiration yielding warmer temperatures. Comparison of simulated feedback strength to observations of the feedback from the current climate's seasonal cycle suggests the inter‐model differences are excessive. At the same time, the multi‐model mean feedback strength agrees reasonably well with the observed value. We estimate that if the next generation of models were brought into line with observations of snow albedo feedback, the unusually wide divergence in simulations of summer warming and drying over the US would shrink by roughly one third to one half.
The strength of snow-albedo feedback (SAF) in transient climate change simulations of the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is generally determined by the surface-albedo decrease associated with a loss of snow cover rather than the reduction in snow albedo due to snow metamorphosis in a warming climate. The large intermodel spread in SAF strength is likewise attributable mostly to the snow cover component. The spread in the strength of this component is in turn mostly attributable to a correspondingly large spread in mean effective snow albedo. Models with large effective snow albedos have a large surface-albedo contrast between snow-covered and snow-free regions and exhibit a correspondingly large surface-albedo decrease when snow cover decreases. Models without explicit treatment of the vegetation canopy in their surface-albedo calculations typically have high effective snow albedos and strong SAF, often stronger than observed. In models with explicit canopy treatment, completely snow-covered surfaces typically have lower albedos and the simulations have weaker SAF, generally weaker than observed. The authors speculate that in these models either snow albedos or canopy albedos when snow is present are too low, or vegetation shields snow-covered surfaces excessively. Detailed observations of surface albedo in a representative sampling of snow-covered surfaces would therefore be extremely useful in constraining these parameterizations and reducing SAF spread in the next generation of models.
We examine the climatological diurnal cycle of surface air temperature in a 6 km resolution atmospheric simulation of Southern California from 1995 to the present. We find its amplitude and phase both have significant geographical structure. This is most likely due to diurnally-varying flows back and forth across the coastline and elevation isolines resulting from the large daily warming and cooling over land. Because the region’s atmosphere is generally stably stratified, these flow patterns result in air of lower (higher) potential temperature being advected upslope (downslope) during daytime (nighttime). This suppresses the temperature diurnal cycle amplitude at mountaintops where diurnal flows converge (diverge) during the day (night). The nighttime land breeze also advects air of higher potential temperature downslope toward the coast. This raises minimum temperatures in land areas adjacent to the coast in a manner analogous to the daytime suppression of maximum temperature by the cool sea breeze in these same areas. Because stratification is greater in the coastal zone than in the desert interior, these thermal effects of the diurnal winds are not uniform, generating spatial structures in the phase and shape of the temperature diurnal cycle as well as its amplitude. We confirm that the simulated characteristics of the temperature diurnal cycle as well as those of the associated diurnal winds are also found in a network of 30 observation stations in the region. This gives confidence in the simulation’s realism and our study’s findings. Diurnal flows are probably mainly responsible for the geographical structures in the temperature diurnal cycle in other regions of significant topography and surface heterogeneity, their importance depending partly on the degree of atmospheric stratification.
We developed a 3D Monte Carlo photon tracing program for the transfer of radiation in inhomogeneous and irregular terrain to calculate broadband solar and thermal infrared fluxes. We selected an area of 100 × 100 km2 in the Tibetan Plateau centered at Lhasa city and used the albedo and surface temperature from MODIS/Terra for this study. We showed that anomalies of surface solar fluxes with reference to a flat surface can be as large as 600 W/m2, depending on time of day, mountain configuration, and albedo. Surface temperature is the dominating factor in determining anomalies of the surface infrared flux distribution relative to a flat surface with values as high as 70 W/m2 at cold mountain surfaces. The average surface solar flux over regional domains of 100 × 100 km2 and 50 × 50 km2 comprising intense topography can deviate from the smoothed surface conventionally assumed in climate models and GCMs by 10–50 W/m2.
Differences in simulations of climate feedbacks are sources of significant divergence in climate models' temperature response to anthropogenic forcing. Snow albedo feedback is particularly critical for climate change prediction in heavily‐populated northern hemisphere land masses. Here we show its strength in current models exhibits a factor‐of‐three spread. These large intermodel variations in feedback strength in climate change are nearly perfectly correlated with comparably large intermodel variations in feedback strength in the context of the seasonal cycle. Moreover, the feedback strength in the real seasonal cycle can be measured and compared to simulated values. These mostly fall outside the range of the observed estimate, suggesting many models have an unrealistic snow albedo feedback in the seasonal cycle context. Because of the tight correlation between simulated feedback strength in the seasonal cycle and climate change, eliminating the model errors in the seasonal cycle will lead directly to a reduction in the spread of feedback strength in climate change. Though this comparison to observations may put the models in an unduly harsh light because of uncertainties in the observed estimate that are difficult to quantify, our results map out a clear strategy for targeted observation of the seasonal cycle to reduce divergence in simulations of climate sensitivity.
We developed a three‐dimensional radiative transfer model simulating solar fluxes over mountain surfaces precisely given distributions of atmospheric scatterers and absorbers. The model quantifies direct, diffuse, terrain‐reflected, and coupling (i.e., photons reflected and scattered more than once) fluxes. We applied it to a midlatitude mountainous surface to study these components' diurnal, seasonal, and geographical variability under clear skies. Domain‐averaged direct and diffuse fluxes together comprise over 96% of the flux year‐round, with diffuse fluxes' relative importance varying inversely with that of direct radiation. Direct fluxes generally account for at least 80% of the total. However, the domain‐averaged diffuse flux proportion increases to nearly 40% at high zenith angles, and approaches 100% when neighboring slopes obscure the surface from the Sun. Terrain‐reflected and coupling components each account for less than 1% throughout much of the year. However, together they comprise ∼3% when surface albedo increases during winter and are similarly nonnegligible in deep valleys all year. We also studied controls on geographical variations in flux components: The sky view factor, a conventional predictor of diffuse fluxes, is surprisingly weakly correlated with them, posing a parameterization challenge. Terrain‐reflected and coupling fluxes may be easier to parameterize given topography. Finally, we assessed shortwave errors in General Circulation Models with smoothed topography by comparing results with the mountainous surface to identical calculations for a flat surface with the same mean elevation. The differences range from 5 to 20 W/m2 and arise because the atmosphere absorbs a different amount of sunshine when underlying topography is smoothed.
The primary regimes of local atmospheric variability are examined in a 6-km regional atmospheric model of the southern third of California, an area of significant land surface heterogeneity, intense topography, and climate diversity. The model was forced by reanalysis boundary conditions over the period 1995–2003. The region is approximately the same size as a typical grid box of the current generation of general circulation models used for global climate prediction and reanalysis product generation, and so can be thought of as a laboratory for the study of climate at spatial scales smaller than those resolved by global simulations and reanalysis products. It is found that the simulated circulation during the October–March wet season, when variability is most significant, can be understood through an objective classification technique in terms of three wind regimes. The composite surface wind patterns associated with these regimes exhibit significant spatial structure within the model domain, consistent with the complex topography of the region. These regimes also correspond nearly perfectly with the simulation’s highly structured patterns of variability in hydrology and temperature, and therefore are the main contributors to the local climate variability. The regimes are approximately equally likely to occur regardless of the phase of the classical large-scale modes of atmospheric variability prevailing in the Pacific–North American sector. The high degree of spatial structure of the local regimes and their tightly associated climate impacts, as well as their ambiguous relationship with the primary modes of large-scale variability, demonstrate that the local perspective offered by the high-resolution model is necessary to understand and predict the climate variations of the region.
Processes in the climate system that can either amplify or dampen the climate response to an external perturbation are referred to as climate feedbacks. Climate sensitivity estimates depend critically on radiative feedbacks associated with water vapor, lapse rate, clouds, snow, and sea ice, and global estimates of these feedbacks differ among general circulation models. By reviewing recent observational, numerical, and theoretical studies, this paper shows that there has been progress since the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in (i) the understanding of the physical mechanisms involved in these feedbacks, (ii) the interpretation of intermodel differences in global estimates of these feedbacks, and (iii) the development of methodologies of evaluation of these feedbacks (or of some components) using observations. This suggests that continuing developments in climate feedback research will progressively help make it possible to constrain the GCMs’ range of climate feedbacks and climate sensitivity through an ensemble of diagnostics based on physical understanding and observations.
In this paper, the two factors controlling Northern Hemisphere springtime snow albedo feedback in transient climate change are isolated and quantified based on scenario runs of 17 climate models used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. The first factor is the dependence of planetary albedo on surface albedo, representing the atmosphere's attenuation effect on surface albedo anomalies. It is potentially a major source of divergence in simulations of snow albedo feedback because of large differences in simulated cloud fields in Northern Hemisphere land areas. To calculate the dependence, an analytical model governing planetary albedo was developed. Detailed validations of the analytical model for two of the simulations are shown, version 3 of the Community Climate System Model (CCSM3) and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory global coupled Climate Model 2.0 (CM2.0), demonstrating that it facilitates a highly accurate calculation of the dependence of planetary albedo on surface albedo given readily available simulation output. In all simulations it is found that surface albedo anomalies are attenuated by approximately half in Northern Hemisphere land areas as they are transformed into planetary albedo anomalies. The intermodel standard deviation in the dependence of planetary albedo on surface albedo is surprisingly small, less than 10% of the mean. Moreover, when an observational estimate of this factor is calculated by applying the same method to the satellite-based International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) data, it is found that most simulations agree with ISCCP values to within about 10%, despite further disagreements between observed and simulated cloud fields. This suggests that even large relative errors in simulated cloud fields do not result in significant error in this factor, enhancing confidence in climate models. The second factor, related exclusively to surface processes, is the change in surface albedo associated with an anthropogenically induced temperature change in Northern Hemisphere land areas. It exhibits much more intermodel variability. The standard deviation is about ⅓ of the mean, with the largest value being approximately 3 times larger than the smallest. Therefore this factor is unquestionably the main source of the large divergence in simulations of snow albedo feedback. To reduce the divergence, attention should be focused on differing parameterizations of snow processes, rather than intermodel variations in the attenuation effect of the atmosphere on surface albedo anomalies.
Milankovitch proposed that variations in the earth’s orbit cause climate variability through a local thermodynamic response to changes in insolation. This hypothesis is tested by examining variability in an atmospheric general circulation model coupled to an ocean mixed layer model subjected to the orbital forcing of the past 165 000 yr. During Northern Hemisphere summer, the model’s response conforms to Milankovitch’s hypothesis, with high (low) insolation generating warm (cold) temperatures throughout the hemisphere. However, during Northern Hemisphere winter, the climate variations stemming from orbital forcing cannot be solely understood as a local thermodynamic response to radiation anomalies. Instead, orbital forcing perturbs the atmospheric circulation in a pattern bearing a striking resemblance to the northern annular mode, the primary mode of simulated and observed unforced atmospheric variability. The hypothesized reason for this similarity is that the circulation response to orbital forcing reflects the same dynamics generating unforced variability. These circulation anomalies are in turn responsible for significant fluctuations in other climate variables: Most of the simulated orbital signatures in wintertime surface air temperature over midlatitude continents are directly traceable not to local radiative forcing, but to orbital excitation of the northern annular mode. This has paleoclimate implications: during the point of the model integration corresponding to the last interglacial (Eemian) period, the orbital excitation of this mode generates a 1°–2°C warm surface air temperature anomaly over Europe, providing an explanation for the warm anomaly of comparable magnitude implied by the paleoclimate proxy record. The results imply that interpretations of the paleoclimate record must account for changes in surface temperature driven not only by changes in insolation, but also by perturbations in atmospheric dynamics.
Climatological planetary albedo obtained from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) D-series flux dataset is broken down into contributions from the surface and atmosphere in cryosphere regions. The atmosphere accounts for much more of climatological planetary albedo (≥75%) than the surface at all times of the year. The insignificance of the surface contribution over highly reflective cryosphere regions is attributed mostly to the damping effect of the atmosphere. The overlying atmosphere attenuates the surface’s contribution to climatological planetary albedo by reducing the number of solar photons initially reaching the surface and the number of photons initially reflected by the surface that actually reach the top of the atmosphere.
The ISCCP datasets were also used to determine the relative contributions of the surface and atmosphere to seasonal and interannual planetary albedo variability in cryosphere regions. Even damped by the atmosphere to the same degree as in the climatological case, the surface contribution dominates the variability in planetary albedo on seasonal and interannual time scales. The surface accounts for about 75% of the change in climatological planetary albedo from one season to another with similar zenith angle and more than 50% of its interannual variability at nearly all times of the year, especially during seasons with extensive snow and sea ice extent. The dominance of the surface in planetary albedo variability is because surface albedo variability associated with snow and ice fluctuations is significantly larger than atmospheric albedo variability due to cloud fluctuations. The large effect of snow and ice variations on planetary albedo variability suggests that if cloud fields do not change much in a future warmer climate, a retreat of snow cover or sea ice would lead to a significant increase in net incoming solar radiation, resulting in an enhancement of high-latitude climate sensitivity.
The depth of the planetary boundary layer (PBL) is a climatologically important quantity that has received little attention on regional to global scales. Here a 10-yr climatology of PBL depth from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) atmospheric GCM is analyzed using the PBL mass budget. Based on the dominant physical processes, several PBL regimes are identified. These regimes tend to exhibit large-scale geographic organization. Locally generated buoyancy fluxes and static stability control PBL depth nearly everywhere, though convective mass flux has a large influence at tropical marine locations. Virtually all geographical variability in PBL depth can be linearly related to these quantities. While dry convective boundary layers dominate over land, stratocumulus-topped boundary layers are most common over ocean. This division of regimes leads to a dramatic land–sea contrast in PBL depth. Diurnal effects keep mean PBL depth over land shallow despite large daytime surface fluxes. The contrast arises because the large daily exchange of heat and mass between the PBL and free atmosphere over land is not present over the ocean, where mixing is accomplished by turbulent entrainment. Consistent treatment of remnant air from the deep, daytime PBL is necessary for proper representation of this diurnal behavior over land. Many locations exhibit seasonal shifts in PBL regime related to changes in PBL clouds. These shifts are controlled by seasonal variations in buoyancy flux and static stability.
A coarse resolution coupled ocean–atmosphere simulation in which surface albedo feedback is suppressed by prescribing surface albedo, is compared to one where snow and sea ice anomalies are allowed to affect surface albedo. Canonical CO2-doubling experiments were performed with both models to assess the impact of this feedback on equilibrium response to external forcing. It accounts for about half the high-latitude response to the forcing. Both models were also run for 1000 yr without forcing to assess the impact of surface albedo feedback on internal variability. Surprisingly little internal variability can be attributed to this feedback, except in the Northern Hemisphere continents during spring and in the sea ice zone of the Southern Hemisphere year-round. At these locations and during these seasons, it accounts for, at most, 20% of the variability. The main reason for this relatively weak signal is that horizontal damping processes dilute the impact of surface albedo feedback.
When snow albedo feedback in Northern Hemisphere continents is isolated from horizontal damping processes, it has a similar strength in the CO2-doubling and internal variability contexts; a given temperature anomaly in these regions is associated with approximately the same change in snow depth and surface albedo whether it was externally forced or internally generated. This suggests that the presence of internal variability in the observed record is not a barrier to extracting information about snow albedo feedback's contribution to equilibrium climate sensitivity. This is demonstrated in principle in a “scenario run,” where estimates of past, present, and future changes in greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols are imposed on the model with surface albedo feedback. This simulation contains a mix of internal variations and externally forced anomalies similar to the observed record. The snow albedo feedback to the scenario run's climate anomalies agrees very well with the snow albedo feedback in the CO2-doubling context. Moreover, the portion of the scenario run corresponding to the present-day satellite record is long enough to capture this feedback, suggesting this record could be used to estimate snow albedo feedback's contribution to equilibrium climate sensitivity.