, Volume 41, Issue 11-12, pp 3007-3024,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 12 Oct 2012

Tropospheric adjustment to increasing CO2: its timescale and the role of land–sea contrast


Physical processes responsible for tropospheric adjustment to increasing carbon dioxide concentration are investigated using abrupt CO2 quadrupling experiments of a general circulation model (GCM) called the model for interdisciplinary research on climate version 5 with several configurations including a coupled atmosphere–ocean GCM, atmospheric GCM, and aqua-planet model. A similar experiment was performed in weather forecast mode to explore timescales of the tropospheric adjustment. We found that the shortwave component of the cloud radiative effect (SWcld) reaches its equilibrium within 2 days of the abrupt CO2 increase. The change in SWcld is positive, associated with reduced clouds in the lower troposphere due to warming and drying by instantaneous radiative forcing. A reduction in surface turbulent heat fluxes and increase of the near-surface stability result in shoaling of the marine boundary layer, which shifts the cloud layer downward. These changes are common to all experiments regardless of model configuration, indicating that the cloud adjustment is primarily independent of air–sea coupling and land–sea thermal contrast. The role of land in cloud adjustment is further examined by a series of idealized aqua-planet experiments, with a rectangular continent of varying width. Land surface warming from quadrupled CO2 induces anomalous upward motion, which increases high cloud and associated negative SWcld over land. The geographic distribution of continents regulates the spatial pattern of the cloud adjustment. A larger continent produces more negative SWcld, which partly compensates for a positive SWcld over the ocean. The land-induced negative adjustment is a factor but not necessary requirement for the tropospheric adjustment.