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Publication Date
9 August 2023

Comparison of methods to estimate aerosol effective radiative forcings in climate models



Uncertainty in the effective radiative forcing (ERF) of climate primarily arises from the unknown contribution of aerosols, which impact radiative fluxes directly and through modifying cloud properties. Climate model simulations with fixed sea surface temperatures but perturbed atmospheric aerosol loadings allow for an estimate of how strongly the planet’s radiative energy budget has been perturbed by the increase in aerosols since pre-industrial times. The approximate partial radiative perturbation (APRP) technique further decomposes the contributions to the direct forcing due to aerosol scattering and absorption and to the indirect forcing due to aerosol-induced changes in cloud scattering, amount, and absorption, as well as the effects of aerosols on surface albedo. Here we evaluate previously published APRP-derived estimates of aerosol effective radiative forcings from these simulations conducted in the sixth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) and find that they are  biased as a result of two large coding errors that – in most cases – fortuitously compensate. The most notable exception is the direct radiative forcing from absorbing aerosols, which is more than 40% larger averaged across CMIP6 models in the present study. Correcting these biases eliminates the residuals and leads to better agreement with benchmark estimates derived from double calls to the radiation code. The APRP method – when properly implemented – remains a highly accurate and efficient technique for diagnosing aerosol ERF in cases where double radiation calls are not available, and in all cases it provides quantification of the individual contributors to the ERF that are highly useful but not otherwise available.

Zelinka, Mark, Christopher J. Smith, Yi Qin, and Karl Taylor. 2023. “Comparison Of Methods To Estimate Aerosol Effective Radiative Forcings In Climate Models”. Atmospheric Chemistry And Physics 23: 8879–8898. doi:10.5194/acp-23-8879-2023.
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