Climate Dynamics

, Volume 42, Issue 3–4, pp 901–917 | Cite as

Quantifying contributions of climate feedbacks to tropospheric warming in the NCAR CCSM3.0

  • Xiaoliang SongEmail author
  • Guang J. Zhang
  • Ming Cai


In this study, a coupled atmosphere-surface “climate feedback-response analysis method” (CFRAM) was applied to the slab ocean model version of the NCAR CCSM3.0 to understand the tropospheric warming due to a doubling of CO2 concentration through quantifying the contributions of each climate feedback process. It is shown that the tropospheric warming displays distinct meridional and vertical patterns that are in a good agreement with the multi-model mean projection from the IPCC AR4. In the tropics, the warming in the upper troposphere is stronger than in the lower troposphere, leading to a decrease in temperature lapse rate, whereas in high latitudes the opposite it true. In terms of meridional contrast, the lower tropospheric warming in the tropics is weaker than that in high latitudes, resulting in a weakened meridional temperature gradient. In the upper troposphere the meridional temperature gradient is enhanced due to much stronger warming in the tropics than in high latitudes. Using the CFRAM method, we analyzed both radiative feedbacks, which have been emphasized in previous climate feedback analysis, and non-radiative feedbacks. It is shown that non-radiative (radiative) feedbacks are the major contributors to the temperature lapse rate decrease (increase) in the tropical (polar) region. Atmospheric convection is the leading contributor to temperature lapse rate decrease in the tropics. The cloud feedback also has non-negligible contributions. In the polar region, water vapor feedback is the main contributor to the temperature lapse rate increase, followed by albedo feedback and CO2 forcing. The decrease of meridional temperature gradient in the lower troposphere is mainly due to strong cooling from convection and cloud feedback in the tropics and the strong warming from albedo feedback in the polar region. The strengthening of meridional temperature gradient in the upper troposphere can be attributed to the warming associated with convection and cloud feedback in the tropics. Since convection is the leading contributor to the warming differences between tropical lower and upper troposphere, and between the tropical and polar regions, this study indicates that tropical convection plays a critical role in determining the climate sensitivity. In addition, the CFRAM analysis shows that convective process and water vapor feedback are the two major contributors to the tropical upper troposphere temperature change, indicating that the excessive upper tropospheric warming in the IPCC AR4 models may be due to overestimated warming from convective process or underestimated cooling due to water vapor feedback.


Tropospheric warming Climate feedback Spatial pattern Convective process Climate feedback-response analysis method 



This research was supported by the Office of Science (BER), U.S. Department of Energy under Grant DE-SC0008880, the National Science Foundation Grants AGS-1015964 and ATM-0833001, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Grants NA08OAR4320894 and NA11OAR431098. The computational support for this work was provided by the NCAR Computational and Information Systems Laboratory. The authors thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments that helped to improve the presentation of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Scripps Institution of OceanographyLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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