Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling

Mixed-Phase Cloud Physics and Southern Ocean Cloud Feedback in Climate Models

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 - 17:30 to 17:45
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Increasing optical depth poleward of 45° is a robust response to warming in global climate models. Much of this cloud optical depth increase has been hypothesized to be due to transitions from ice-dominated to liquid-dominated mixed-phase cloud. In this study, the importance of liquid-ice partitioning for the optical depth feedback is quantified for several CMIP5 models. All models show a monotonic partitioning of ice and liquid as a function of temperature, but the temperature at which ice and liquid are equally mixed (the glaciation temperature) varies by as much as 40K across models. Models that have a higher glaciation temperature are found to have a smaller climatological liquid water path (LWP) and condensed water path, and experience a larger increase in LWP as the climate warms. The ice-liquid partitioning curve of each model may be used to calculate the response of LWP to warming. It is found that the re-partitioning between ice and liquid in a warming climate contributes at least 20% to 80% of the increase in LWP as the climate warms, depending on model. Inter-model differences in the climatological partitioning between ice and liquid are estimated to contribute at least 20% to the inter-model spread in the high-latitude LWP response in the mixed-phase region poleward of 45°S. It is hypothesized that a more thorough evaluation and constraint of GCM mixed-phase cloud parameterizations, and validation of the total condensate and ice-liquid apportionment against observations will yield a substantial reduction in model uncertainty in the high-latitude cloud response to warming.

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