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Contrasting observed atmospheric responses to tropical SST warming patterns

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Title: Contrasting observed atmospheric responses to tropical SST warming patterns
Authors: Mackie, A
Brindley, HE
Palmer, PI
Item Type: Journal Article
Abstract: Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) is a theoretical concept which describes the change in global mean surface temperature that results from a sustained doubling of atmospheric CO2. Current ECS estimates range from ∼1.8 to 5.6 K, reflecting uncertainties in climate feedbacks. The sensitivity of the lower (1,000–700 hPa) and upper (500–200 hPa) troposphere to changes in spatial patterns of tropical sea surface temperature (SST) have been proposed by recent model studies as key feedbacks controlling climate sensitivity. We examine empirical evidence for these proposed mechanisms using 14 years of satellite data. We examine the response of temperature and humidity profiles, clouds, and top‐of‐the‐atmosphere radiation to relative warming in tropical ocean regions when there is either strong convection or subsidence. We find warmer SSTs in regions of strong subsidence are coincident with a decrease in lower tropospheric stability (−0.9 ± 0.4 KK−1) and low cloud cover (∼−6% K−1). This leads to a warming associated with the weakening in the shortwave cooling effect of clouds (4.2 ± 1.9 Wm−2K−1), broadly consistent with model calculations. In contrast, warmer SSTs in regions of strong convection are coincident with an increase in upper tropospheric humidity (3.2 ± 1.5% K−1). In this scenario, the dominant effect is the enhancement of the warming longwave cloud radiative effect (3.8 ± 3.0 Wm−2K−1) from an increase in high cloud cover (∼7% K−1), though changes in the net (longwave and shortwave) effect are not statistically significant (p < 0.003). Our observational evidence supports the existence of mechanisms linking contrasting atmospheric responses to patterns in SST, mechanisms which have been linked to climate sensitivity.
Issue Date: 16-Apr-2021
Date of Acceptance: 10-Mar-2021
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10044/1/87748
DOI: 10.1029/2020jd033564
ISSN: 2169-897X
Publisher: American Geophysical Union (AGU)
Start Page: 1
End Page: 12
Journal / Book Title: Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Volume: 126
Issue: 7
Copyright Statement: © 2021. The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Keywords: 0401 Atmospheric Sciences
0406 Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience
Publication Status: Published
Online Publication Date: 2021-03-22
Appears in Collections:Space and Atmospheric Physics

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