, Volume 35, Issue 7-8, pp 1219-1236,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 17 Sep 2009

Climate feedbacks determined using radiative kernels in a multi-thousand member ensemble of AOGCMs


The use of radiative kernels to diagnose climate feedbacks is a recent development that may be applied to existing climate change simulations. We apply the radiative kernel technique to transient simulations from a multi-thousand member perturbed physics ensemble of coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation models, comparing distributions of model feedbacks with those taken from the CMIP-3 multi GCM ensemble. Although the range of clear sky longwave feedbacks in the perturbed physics ensemble is similar to that seen in the multi-GCM ensemble, the kernel technique underestimates the net clear-sky feedbacks (or the radiative forcing) in some perturbed models with significantly altered humidity distributions. In addition, the compensating relationship between global mean atmospheric lapse rate feedback and water vapor feedback is found to hold in the perturbed physics ensemble, but large differences in relative humidity distributions in the ensemble prevent the compensation from holding at a regional scale. Both ensembles show a similar range of response of global mean net cloud feedback, but the mean of the perturbed physics ensemble is shifted towards more positive values such that none of the perturbed models exhibit a net negative cloud feedback. The perturbed physics ensemble contains fewer models with strong negative shortwave cloud feedbacks and has stronger compensating positive longwave feedbacks. A principal component analysis used to identify dominant modes of feedback variation reveals that the perturbed physics ensemble produces very different modes of climate response to the multi-model ensemble, suggesting that one may not be used as an analog for the other in estimates of uncertainty in future response. Whereas in the multi-model ensemble, the first order variation in cloud feedbacks shows compensation between longwave and shortwave components, in the perturbed physics ensemble the shortwave feedbacks are uncompensated, possibly explaining the larger range of climate sensitivities observed in the perturbed simulations. Regression analysis suggests that the parameters governing cloud formation, convection strength and ice fall speed are the most significant in altering climate feedbacks. Perturbations of oceanic and sulfur cycle parameters have relatively little effect on the atmospheric feedbacks diagnosed by the kernel technique.