Factors affecting climate sensitivity in global coupled models

Gerald A. Meehl, Warren M. Washington, Julie M. Arblaster, Aixue Hu

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Four global coupled climate models with different combinations of atmosphere, ocean, land surface, and sea ice components are compared in idealized forcing (1% CO2 increase) experiments. The four models are the Climate System Model (CSM), the Parallel Climate Model (PCM), the PCM/CSM Transition Model (PCTM), and the Community Climate System Model (CCSM). The hypothesis is posed that models with similar atmospheric model components should show a similar globally averaged dynamically coupled response to increasing CO2 in spite of different ocean, sea ice, and land formulations. Conversely, models with different atmospheric components should be most different in terms of the coupled globally averaged response. The two models with the same atmosphere and sea ice but different ocean components (PCM and PCTM) have the most similar response to increasing CO2, followed closely by CSM with comparable atmosphere and different ocean and sea ice from either PCM or PCTM. The fourth model, CCSM, has a different response from the other three and, in particular, is different from PCTM in spite of having the same ocean and sea ice but different atmospheric model component. These results support the hypothesis that, to a greater degree than the other components, the atmospheric model "manages" the relevant global feedbacks including sea ice albedo, water vapor, and clouds. The atmospheric model also affects the meridional overturning circulation in the ocean, as well as the ocean heat uptake characteristics. This is due to changes in surface fluxes of heat and freshwater that affect surface density in the ocean. For global sensitivity measures, the ocean, sea ice, and land surface play secondary roles, even though differences in these components can be important for regional climate changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1584-1596
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes

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