, Volume 41, Issue 7-8, pp 1923-1939
Date: 11 Dec 2012

Coupling between subtropical cloud feedback and the local hydrological cycle in a climate model

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Abstract

In HadGEM2-A, AMIP experiments forced with observed sea surface temperatures respond to uniform and patterned +4 K SST perturbations with strong positive cloud feedbacks in the subtropical stratocumulus/trade cumulus transition regions. Over the subtropical Northeast Pacific at 137°W/26°N, the boundary layer cloud fraction reduces considerably in the AMIP +4 K patterned SST experiment. The near-surface wind speed and the air-sea temperature difference reduces, while the near-surface relative humidity increases. These changes limit the local increase in surface evaporation to just 3 W/m2 or 0.6 %/K. Previous studies have suggested that increases in surface evaporation may be required to maintain maritime boundary layer cloud in a warmer climate. This suggests that the supply of water vapour from surface evaporation may not be increasing enough to maintain the low level cloud fraction in the warmer climate in HadGEM2-A. Sensitivity tests which force the surface evaporation to increase substantially in the +4 K patterned SST experiment result in smaller changes in boundary layer cloud and a weaker cloud feedback in HadGEM2-A, supporting this idea. Although global mean surface evaporation in climate models increases robustly with global temperature (and the resulting increase in atmospheric radiative cooling), local values may increase much less, having a significant impact on cloud feedback. These results suggest a coupling between cloud feedback and the hydrological cycle via changes in the patterns of surface evaporation. A better understanding of both the factors controlling local changes in surface evaporation and the sensitivity of clouds to such changes may be required to understand the reasons for inter-model differences in subtropical cloud feedback.