Climate Dynamics

, Volume 35, Issue 7, pp 1461-1475

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Climate forcings and climate sensitivities diagnosed from atmospheric global circulation models

  • Bruce T. AndersonAffiliated withDepartment of Geography and Environment, Boston University Email author 
  • , Jeff R. KnightAffiliated withMet Office Hadley Centre
  • , Mark A. RingerAffiliated withMet Office Hadley Centre
  • , Clara DeserAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Adam S. PhillipsAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Jin-Ho YoonAffiliated withCooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland
  • , Annalisa CherchiAffiliated withCentro Euro-Mediterraneo per i Cambiamenti Climatici, and Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia


Understanding the historical and future response of the global climate system to anthropogenic emissions of radiatively active atmospheric constituents has become a timely and compelling concern. At present, however, there are uncertainties in: the total radiative forcing associated with changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere; the effective forcing applied to the climate system resulting from a (temporary) reduction via ocean-heat uptake; and the strength of the climate feedbacks that subsequently modify this forcing. Here a set of analyses derived from atmospheric general circulation model simulations are used to estimate the effective and total radiative forcing of the observed climate system due to anthropogenic emissions over the last 50 years of the twentieth century. They are also used to estimate the sensitivity of the observed climate system to these emissions, as well as the expected change in global surface temperatures once the climate system returns to radiative equilibrium. Results indicate that estimates of the effective radiative forcing and total radiative forcing associated with historical anthropogenic emissions differ across models. In addition estimates of the historical sensitivity of the climate to these emissions differ across models. However, results suggest that the variations in climate sensitivity and total climate forcing are not independent, and that the two vary inversely with respect to one another. As such, expected equilibrium temperature changes, which are given by the product of the total radiative forcing and the climate sensitivity, are relatively constant between models, particularly in comparison to results in which the total radiative forcing is assumed constant. Implications of these results for projected future climate forcings and subsequent responses are also discussed.