Solar and greenhouse gas forcing and climate response in the twentieth century

Gerald A. Meehl, Warren M. Washington, T. M.L. Wigley, Julie M. Arblaster, Aiguo Dai

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Ensemble experiments with a global coupled climate model are performed for the twentieth century with time-evolving solar, greenhouse gas, sulfate aerosol (direct effect), and ozone (tropospheric and stratospheric) forcing. Observed global warming in the twentieth century occurred in two periods, one in the early twentieth century from about the early 1900s to the 1940s, and one later in the century from, roughly, the late 1960s to the end of the century. The model's response requires the combination of solar and anthropogenic forcing to approximate the early twentieth-century warming, while the radiative forcing from increasing greenhouse gases is dominant for the response in the late twentieth century, confirming previous studies. Of particular interest here is the model's amplification of solar forcing when this acts in combination with anthropogenic forcing. This difference is traced to the fact solar forcing is more spatially heterogeneous (i.e., acting most strongly in areas where sunlight reaches the surface) while greenhouse gas forcing is more spatially uniform. Consequently, solar forcing is subject to coupled regional feedbacks involving the combination of temperature gradients, circulation regimes, and clouds. The magnitude of these feedbacks depends on the climate's base state. Over relatively cloud-free oceanic regions in the subtropics, the enhanced solar forcing produces greater evaporation. More moisture then converges into the precipitation convergence zones, intensifying the regional monsoon and Hadley and Walker circulations, causing cloud reductions over the subtropical ocean regions, and, hence, more solar input. An additional response to solar forcing in northern summer is an enhancement of the meridional temperature gradients due to greater solar forcing over land regions that contribute to stronger West African and South Asian monsoons. Since the greenhouse gases are more spatially uniform, such regional circulation feedbacks are not as strong. These regional responses are most evident when the solar forcing occurs in concert with increased greenhouse gas forcing. The net effect of enhanced solar forcing in the early twentieth century is to produce larger solar-induced increases of tropical precipitation when calculated as a residual than for early century solar-only forcing, even though the size of the imposed solar forcing is the same. As a consequence, overall precipitation increases in the early twentieth century in the Asian monsoon regions are greater than late century increases, qualitatively consistent with observed trends in all-India rainfall. Similar effects occur in West Africa, the tropical Pacific, and the Southern Ocean tropical convergence zones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-444
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2003
Externally publishedYes

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