Physical Mechanisms of Tropical Climate Feedbacks Investigated Using Temperature and Moisture Trends
Ferraro, Angus J.
Lambert, F. Hugo
Journal of Climate
American Meteorological Society
© 2015 American Meteorological Society. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Tropical climate feedback mechanisms are assessed using satellite-observed and model-simulated trends in tropical tropospheric temperature from the MSU/AMSU instruments and upper-tropospheric humidity from the HIRS instruments. Despite discrepancies in the rates of tropospheric warming between observations and models, both are consistent with constant relative humidity over the period 1979--2008. Because uncertainties in satellite-observed tropical-mean trends preclude a constraint on tropical-mean trends in models we also explore regional features of the feedbacks. The regional pattern of the lapse rate feedback is primarily determined by the regional pattern of surface temperature changes, as tropical atmospheric warming is relatively horizontally uniform. The regional pattern of the water vapor feedback is influenced by the regional pattern of precipitation changes, with variations of 1--2 W m-2 K-1 across the Tropics (compared to a tropical-mean feedback magnitude of 3.3--4 W m-2 K-1). Thus the geographical patterns of water vapor and lapse rate feedbacks are not correlated, but when the feedbacks are calculated in precipitation percentiles rather than in geographical space they are anti-correlated, with strong positive water vapor feedback associated with strong negative lapse rate feedback. The regional structure of the feedbacks is not related to the strength of the tropical-mean feedback in a subset of the climate models from the CMIP5 archive. Nevertheless the approach constitutes a useful process-based test of climate models and has the potential to be extended to constrain regional climate projections.
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Open access article
Vol. 28, pp. 8968–8987