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

Climatology Explains Intermodel Spread in Tropical Upper Tropospheric Cloud and Relative Humidity Response to Greenhouse Warming

TitleClimatology Explains Intermodel Spread in Tropical Upper Tropospheric Cloud and Relative Humidity Response to Greenhouse Warming
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsPo-Chedley, Stephen, Zelinka Mark D., Jeevanjee Nadir, Thorsen Tyler J., and Santer Benjamin D.
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Volume46
Number22
Pages13399-13409
Abstract / Summary

The response of upper tropospheric clouds and relative humidity (RH) to warming is important to the overall sensitivity of the Earth to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Previous research has shown that changes in hydrologic fields should closely track rising isotherms in a warming climate. Here we show that the distribution of tropical clouds and RH in general circulation models is approximately constant under greenhouse warming when using temperature as a vertical coordinate. By assuming that these fields are an invariant function of atmospheric temperature and that temperature change follows a dilute moist adiabat, we are able to accurately predict cloud fraction and RH changes in the tropical upper troposphere (150–400 hPa) in 27 general circulation models. Our results indicate that intermodel spread in changes of tropical upper tropospheric clouds and RH is closely related to differences in model climatology and could be substantially reduced if model ensembles reliably reproduced observed climatologies.

URLhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2019gl084786
DOI10.1029/2019gl084786
Journal: Geophysical Research Letters
Year of Publication: 2019
Volume: 46
Number: 22
Pages: 13399-13409
Publication Date: 11/2019

The response of upper tropospheric clouds and relative humidity (RH) to warming is important to the overall sensitivity of the Earth to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Previous research has shown that changes in hydrologic fields should closely track rising isotherms in a warming climate. Here we show that the distribution of tropical clouds and RH in general circulation models is approximately constant under greenhouse warming when using temperature as a vertical coordinate. By assuming that these fields are an invariant function of atmospheric temperature and that temperature change follows a dilute moist adiabat, we are able to accurately predict cloud fraction and RH changes in the tropical upper troposphere (150–400 hPa) in 27 general circulation models. Our results indicate that intermodel spread in changes of tropical upper tropospheric clouds and RH is closely related to differences in model climatology and could be substantially reduced if model ensembles reliably reproduced observed climatologies.

DOI: 10.1029/2019gl084786
Citation:
Po-Chedley, S, MD Zelinka, N Jeevanjee, TJ Thorsen, and BD Santer.  2019.  "Climatology Explains Intermodel Spread in Tropical Upper Tropospheric Cloud and Relative Humidity Response to Greenhouse Warming."  Geophysical Research Letters 46(22): 13399-13409.  https://doi.org/10.1029/2019gl084786.