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Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2015 Nov 13;373(2054). pii: 20140415. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2014.0415.

Insights into low-latitude cloud feedbacks from high-resolution models.

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Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-1640, USA


Cloud feedbacks are a leading source of uncertainty in the climate sensitivity simulated by global climate models (GCMs). Low-latitude boundary-layer and cumulus cloud regimes are particularly problematic, because they are sustained by tight interactions between clouds and unresolved turbulent circulations. Turbulence-resolving models better simulate such cloud regimes and support the GCM consensus that they contribute to positive global cloud feedbacks. Large-eddy simulations using sub-100 m grid spacings over small computational domains elucidate marine boundary-layer cloud response to greenhouse warming. Four observationally supported mechanisms contribute: 'thermodynamic' cloudiness reduction from warming of the atmosphere-ocean column, 'radiative' cloudiness reduction from CO2- and H2O-induced increase in atmospheric emissivity aloft, 'stability-induced' cloud increase from increased lower tropospheric stratification, and 'dynamical' cloudiness increase from reduced subsidence. The cloudiness reduction mechanisms typically dominate, giving positive shortwave cloud feedback. Cloud-resolving models with horizontal grid spacings of a few kilometres illuminate how cumulonimbus cloud systems affect climate feedbacks. Limited-area simulations and superparameterized GCMs show upward shift and slight reduction of cloud cover in a warmer climate, implying positive cloud feedbacks. A global cloud-resolving model suggests tropical cirrus increases in a warmer climate, producing positive longwave cloud feedback, but results are sensitive to subgrid turbulence and ice microphysics schemes.


climate sensitivity; cloud feedbacks; cloud-resolving models; large-eddy simulation


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