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Estimates of the Water Vapor Climate Feedback during El Niño–Southern...

Dessler, A., and S. Wong (2009), Estimates of the Water Vapor Climate Feedback during El Niño–Southern Oscillation, J. Climate, 22, 6404-6412, doi:10.1175/2009JCLI3052.1.

The strength of the water vapor feedback has been estimated by analyzing the changes in tropospheric specific

˜ humidity during El Nino–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycles. This analysis is done in climate models driven by observed sea surface temperatures [Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project (AMIP) runs], preindustrial runs of fully coupled climate models, and in two reanalysis products, the 40-yr European Centre for MediumRange Weather Forecasts Re-Analysis (ERA-40) and the NASA Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA). The water vapor feedback during ENSO-driven climate variations in the AMIP models ranges from 1.9 to 3.7 W m22 K21, in the control runs it ranges from 1.4 to 3.9 W m22 K21, and in the ERA-40 and MERRA it is 3.7 and 4.7 W m22 K21, respectively. Taken as a group, these values are higher than previous estimates of the water vapor feedback in response to century-long global warming. Also examined is the reason for the large spread in the ENSO-driven water vapor feedback among the models and between the models and the reanalyses. The models and the reanalyses show a consistent relationship between the variations in the tropical surface temperature over an ENSO cycle and the radiative response to the associated changes in specific humidity. However, the feedback is defined as the ratio of the radiative response to the change in the global average temperature. Differences in extratropical temperatures will, therefore, lead to different inferred feedbacks, and this is the root cause of spread in feedbacks observed here. This is also the likely reason that the feedback inferred from ENSO is larger than for long-term global warming.

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