The Super Greenhouse Effect in a Changing Climate

Stephens, G., B. Kahn, and M. Richardson (2016), The Super Greenhouse Effect in a Changing Climate, J. Climate, 29, 5469-5482, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-15-0234.1.


In all outputs of the 1% yr increase in CO2 climate model experiments archived under the World Climate Research Programme’s (WCRP) phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5), regions exist in the low latitudes where both the clear-sky and all-sky OLR decrease with surface warming. These are identified as regions of positive longwave feedback and are regions of a super greenhouse effect (SGE). These SGE regions are identified from feedback analysis of the 4 3 CO2 abrupt experiments of CMIP5, and despite their existence, there is little agreement across models as to the magnitude of the effect. The general effects of clouds on the SGE are to amplify the clear-sky SGE, but there is also poor agreement on the magnitude of the amplification that varies by an order of magnitude across models. Sensitivity analyses indicate that localized SGE regions are spatially aligned with a large moistening of the upper troposphere. The reduction in clear-sky OLR arises from a reduction in emission in the far IR with nonnegligible contributions from mid-IR emission from the midtroposphere. When viewed in the broader context of meridional heat transport, it is found that of the 1.03-PW rate of heat gained globally, 0.8 PW is absorbed in the tropics and is contributed almost equally by reductions in clear-sky longwave emission (i.e., the clear-sky SGE) and increased absorbed clear-sky solar radiation associated with increased water vapor. The processes that define the clear-sky SGE are shown to be fundamental to the way models accumulate heat and then transport it poleward.

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