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The respective roles of surface temperature driven feedbacks and tropospheric adjustment to CO2 in CMIP5 transient climate simulations


An overview of radiative climate feedbacks and ocean heat uptake efficiency diagnosed from idealized transient climate change experiments of 14 CMIP5 models is presented. Feedbacks explain about two times more variance in transient climate response across the models than ocean heat uptake efficiency. Cloud feedbacks can clearly be identified as the main source of inter-model spread. Models with strong longwave feedbacks in the tropics feature substantial increases in cloud ice around the tropopause suggestive of changes in cloud-top heights. The lifting of the tropical tropopause goes together with a general weakening of the tropical circulation. Distinctive inter-model differences in cloud shortwave feedbacks occur in the subtropics including the equatorward flanks of the storm-tracks. Related cloud fraction changes are not confined to low clouds but comprise middle level clouds as well. A reduction in relative humidity through the lower and mid troposphere can be identified as being the main associated large-scale feature. Experiments with prescribed sea surface temperatures are analyzed in order to investigate whether the diagnosed feedbacks from the transient climate simulations contain a tropospheric adjustment component that is not conveyed through the surface temperature response. The strengths of the climate feedbacks computed from atmosphere-only experiments with prescribed increases in sea surface temperatures, but fixed CO2 concentrations, are close to the ones derived from the transient experiment. Only the cloud shortwave feedback exhibits discernible differences which, however, can not unequivocally be attributed to tropospheric adjustment to CO2. Although for some models a tropospheric adjustment component is present in the global mean shortwave cloud feedback, an analysis of spatial patterns does not lend support to the view that cloud feedbacks are dominated by their tropospheric adjustment part. Nevertheless, there is positive correlation between the strength of tropospheric adjustment processes and cloud feedbacks across different climate models.

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Very valuable discussions with Bjorn Stevens, Levi Silvers, and Dagmar Popke are gratefully acknowledged. The constructive comments and suggestions by two anonymous reviewers greatly helped to improve the manuscript. We thank all modeling groups who contributed data to CMIP5. The work was partially funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme, under GA 226520 for the COMBINE project.

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Correspondence to Lorenzo Tomassini.

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Tomassini, L., Geoffroy, O., Dufresne, J. et al. The respective roles of surface temperature driven feedbacks and tropospheric adjustment to CO2 in CMIP5 transient climate simulations. Clim Dyn 41, 3103–3126 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-013-1682-3

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  • Climate feedbacks
  • Tropospheric adjustment
  • Transient climate response