Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling
25 September 2015

Mixed-Phase Cloud Physics and Southern Ocean Cloud Feedback in Climate Models


Increasing optical depth poleward of 45° is a robust response to warming in global climate models. Much of this cloud optical depth increase has been hypothesized to be due to transitions from ice-dominated to liquid-dominated mixed-phase cloud. In this study, the importance of liquid-ice partitioning for the optical depth feedback is quantified for 19 CMIP5 models. All models show a monotonic partitioning of ice and liquid as a function of temperature, but the temperature at which ice and liquid are equally mixed (the glaciation temperature, or T5050) varies by as much as 40K across models. Models that have a higher glaciation temperature are found to have a smaller climatological liquid water path (LWP) and condensed water path, and experience a larger increase in LWP as the climate warms. The ice-liquid partitioning curve of each model may be used to calculate the response of LWP to warming. It is found that the re-partitioning between ice and liquid in a warming climate contributes at least 20% to 80% of the increase in LWP as the climate warms, depending on model. Inter-model differences in the climatological partitioning between ice and liquid are estimated to contribute at least 20% to the inter-model spread in the high-latitude LWP response in the mixed-phase region poleward of 45°S. It is hypothesized that a more thorough evaluation and constraint of GCM mixed-phase cloud parameterizations, and validation of the total condensate and ice-liquid apportionment against observations will yield a substantial reduction in model uncertainty in the high-latitude cloud response to warming.


Daniel McCoy

We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme's Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling centers for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the U.S. Department of Energy's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. CMIP5 model data may be downloaded from D.T. McCoy, D.L. Hartmann and M.D. Zelinka were supported under DOE Grant DE-SC0012580 and D.T. McCoy acknowledges Government support awarded by DoD, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, 32 CFR 168a. The effort of M.D. Zelinka was performed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under Contract DE-AC52-07NA27344. The authors would like to thank Muge Komurcu, Trude Storelvmo, Ivy Tan, Rob Wood, and the three anonymous reviewers for interesting discussion and advice.