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

The Role of SST and Large-Scale Dynamical Motions on the Onset and Shutdown of the Super Greenhouse Effect

Friday, December 18, 2015 - 08:00 to 12:20
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Over warm tropical oceans the increase in greenhouse trapping with increasing SST is faster than that of the surface emission, resulting in a decrease in outgoing longwave radiation at the top of the atmosphere (OLR) when SST increases, also known as the super greenhouse effect (SGE). If SGE is directly linked to SST changes, there are profound implications for positive climate feedbacks in the tropics. However, a number of studies in the last 20 years have provided compelling evidence that the OLR-SST relationship is coincidental rather than causal. These studies suggested that the onset of SGE is dominated by the large-scale dynamics, and that the apparent OLR-SST relationships disappear when individual large-scale regimes are considered.

We show that these conclusions are contingent on the quality of the datasets used in the analysis, and that modern satellite observations and reanalyses support a strong relationship between SGE and SST. We find that the SGE occurs across all dynamical regimes, suggesting that this may be related primarily to SST rather than large-scale dynamics. We also find that the discontinuity in the relationship between OLR and SST at high SST (29.5 C), i.e. the shutdown of SGE, also occurs across almost all dynamical regimes, suggesting that this behavior may also be strongly linked to SST.

Collectively, these results suggest that the SGE may actually be controlled by SST. Work is ongoing to understand the robustness of this new result to other datasets, to understand whether SST is truly the controlling variable, and to understand the mechanism by which OLR could decrease with increasing SST even under strongly subsiding conditions.

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