Climate Dynamics Group
at the University of California, Santa Cruz

Sources of uncertainty in the meridional pattern of climate change

research paper
  • Dave Bonan
  • Kyle Armour (UW)
  • Gerard Roe (UW)
  • Nick Siler (OSU)
  • Nicole Feldl
updates ↓

08/22/18 Bonan, D. B., K. C. Armour, G. H. Roe, N. Siler, and N. Feldl (2018), Geophysical Research Letters, 45, doi:10.1029/2018GL079429.

We employ a moist energy balance model (MEBM), representing atmospheric heat transport as the diffusion of near‐surface moist static energy, to evaluate sources of uncertainty in the meridional pattern of surface warming. Given zonal mean patterns of radiative forcing, radiative feedbacks, and ocean heat uptake, the MEBM accurately predicts zonal mean warming as simulated by general circulation models under increased CO2. Over a wide range of latitudes, the MEBM captures approximately 90% of the variance in zonal mean warming across the general circulation models, with approximately 70% of the variance attributable to differences in radiative feedbacks alone. Partitioning the radiative feedbacks into individual components shows that the majority of the uncertainty in the meridional pattern of warming arises from uncertainty in cloud feedbacks. Isolating feedback uncertainty within specific regions demonstrates that tropical feedback uncertainty leads to surface warming uncertainty that is global and nearly uniform with latitude, whereas polar feedback uncertainty leads to surface warming uncertainty that is largely confined to the poles.