, Volume 17, Issue 5-6, pp 391-405

On the vertical extent of atmospheric feedbacks

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Abstract

 This study addresses the question: what vertical regions contribute the most to water vapor, surface temperature, lapse rate and cloud fraction feedback strengths in a general circulation model? Multi-level offline radiation perturbation calculations are used to diagnose the feedback contribution from each model level. As a first step, to locate regions of maximum radiative sensitivity to climate changes, the top of atmosphere radiative impact for each feedback is explored for each process by means of idealized parameter perturbations on top of a control (1 × CO2) model climate. As a second step, the actual feedbacks themselves are calculated using the changes modelled from a 2 × CO2 experiment. The impact of clouds on water vapor and lapse rate feedbacks is also isolated using `clear sky' calculations. Considering the idealized changes, it is found that the radiative sensitivity to water vapor changes is a maximum in the tropical lower troposphere. The sensitivity to temperature changes has both upper and lower tropospheric maxima. The sensitivity to idealized cloud changes is positive (warming) for upper level cloud increases but negative (cooling) for lower level increases, due to competing long and shortwave effects. Considering the actual feedbacks, it is found that water vapor feedback is a maximum in the tropical upper troposphere, due to the large relative increases in specific humidity which occur there. The actual lapse rate feedback changes sign with latitude and is a maximum (negative) again in the tropical upper troposphere. Cloud feedbacks reflect the general decrease in low- to mid-level low-latitude cloud, with an increase in the very highest cloud. This produces a net positive (negative) shortwave (longwave) cloud feedback. The role of clouds in the strength of the water vapor and lapse rate feedbacks is also discussed.

Received: 29 November 1999 / Accepted: 13 June 2000