, Volume 41, Issue 7-8, pp 1853-1869
Date: 16 Jan 2013

An explanation for the difference between twentieth and twenty-first century land–sea warming ratio in climate models

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Abstract

A land–sea surface warming ratio (or φ) that exceeds unity is a robust feature of both observed and modelled climate change. Interestingly, though climate models have differing values for φ, it remains almost time-invariant for a wide range of twenty-first century climate transient warming scenarios, while varying in simulations of the twentieth century. Here, we present an explanation for time-invariant land–sea warming ratio that applies if three conditions on radiative forcing are met: first, spatial variations in the climate forcing must be sufficiently small that the lower free troposphere warms evenly over land and ocean; second, the temperature response must not be large enough to change the global circulation to zeroth order; third, the temperature response must not be large enough to modify the boundary layer amplification mechanisms that contribute to making φ exceed unity. Projected temperature changes over this century are too small to breach the latter two conditions. Hence, the mechanism appears to show why both twenty-first century and time-invariant CO2 forcing lead to similar values of φ in climate models despite the presence of transient ocean heat uptake, whereas twentieth century forcing—which has a significant spatially confined anthropogenic tropospheric aerosol component that breaches the first condition—leads to modelled values of φ that vary widely amongst models and in time. Our results suggest an explanation for the behaviour of φ when climate is forced by other regionally confined forcing scenarios such as geo-engineered changes to oceanic clouds. Our results show how land–sea contrasts in surface and boundary layer characteristics act in tandem to produce the land–sea surface warming contrast.