SST Patterns, Atmospheric Variability, and Inferred Sensitivities in the CMIP5 Model Archive

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 11:50
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An emerging consensus suggests that global mean feedbacks to increasing temperature are not constant in time. If feedbacks become more positive in the future, the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) inferred from recent observed global energy budget constraints is likely to be biased low. Time-varying feedbacks are largely tied to evolving sea-surface temperature patterns. In particular, recent anomalously cool conditions in the tropical Pacific may have triggered feedbacks that are not reproduced in equilibrium simulations where the tropical Pacific and Southern Ocean have had time to warm. Here, we use AMIP and CMIP5 historical simulations to explore the ECS that may be inferred over the recent historical period. We find that in all but one CMIP5 model, the feedbacks triggered by observed SST patterns are significantly less positive than those arising from historical simulations in which SST patterns are allowed to evolve unconstrained. However, there are substantial variations in feedbacks even when the SST pattern is held fixed, suggesting that atmospheric and land variability contribute to uncertainty in the estimates of ECS obtained from recent observations of the global energy budget.

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