In the continued effort to understand the climate system and improve its representation in atmospheric general circulation models (AGCMs), it is crucial to develop reduced-complexity frameworks to evaluate these models. This is especially true as the AGCM community advances toward high horizontal resolutions (i.e., grid spacing less than 50 km), which will require interpreting and improving the performance of many model components. A simplified global radiative–convective equilibrium (RCE) configuration is proposed to explore the implication of horizontal resolution on equilibrium climate. RCE is the statistical equilibrium in which the radiative cooling of the atmosphere is balanced by heating due to convection.
In this work, the Community Atmosphere Model, version 5 (CAM5), is configured in RCE to better understand tropical climate and extremes. The RCE setup consists of an ocean-covered Earth with diurnally varying, spatially uniform insolation and no rotation effects. CAM5 is run at two horizontal resolutions: a standard resolution of approximately 100-km grid spacing and a high resolution of approximately 25-km spacing. Surface temperature effects are considered by comparing simulations using fixed, uniform sea surface temperature with simulations using an interactive slab-ocean model. The various CAM5 configurations provide useful insights into the simulation of tropical climate as well as the model’s ability to simulate extreme precipitation events. In particular, the manner in which convection organizes is shown to be dependent on model resolution and the surface configuration (including surface temperature), as evident by differences in cloud structure, circulation, and precipitation intensity.