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Clouds and the atmospheric circulation response to warming

Ceppi, P. and Hartmann, D. L. (2016) Clouds and the atmospheric circulation response to warming. Journal of Climate, 29 (2). pp. 783-799. ISSN 1520-0442

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-15-0394.1


We study the effect of clouds on the atmospheric circulation response to CO2 quadrupling in an aquaplanet model with a slab-ocean lower boundary. The cloud effect is isolated by locking the clouds to either the control or 4xCO2 state in the shortwave (SW) or longwave (LW) radiation schemes. In our model, cloud-radiative changes explain more than half of the total poleward expansion of the Hadley cells, midlatitude jets, and storm tracks under CO2 quadrupling, even though they cause only one-fourth of the total global-mean surface warming. The effect of clouds on circulation results mainly from the SW cloud-radiative changes, which strongly enhance the Equator-to-pole temperature gradient at all levels in the troposphere, favoring stronger and poleward-shifted midlatitude eddies. By contrast, quadrupling CO2 while holding the clouds fixed causes strong polar amplification and weakened midlatitude baroclinicity at lower levels, yielding only a small poleward expansion of the circulation. Our results show that (a) the atmospheric circulation responds sensitively to cloud-driven changes in meridional and vertical temperature distribution, and (b) the spatial structure of cloud feedbacks likely plays a dominant role in the circulation response to greenhouse gas forcing. While the magnitude and spatial structure of the cloud feedback are expected to be highly model-dependent, an analysis of 4xCO2 simulations of CMIP5 models shows that the SW cloud feedback likely forces a poleward expansion of the tropospheric circulation in most climate models.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:No Reading authors. Back catalogue items
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:46906
Publisher:American Meteorological Society


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