Global variability in radiative-convective equilibrium with a slab ocean under a wide range of CO2 concentrations

Tellus 72, 1-19 (2020)

In radiative-convective equilibrium (RCE), radiative cooling of the troposphere is roughly balanced by the vaporization enthalpy set free by precipitating moist convection. Many earlier studies restricted the investigation of RCE to the dynamics of the atmosphere with constant boundary conditions including prescribed surface temperature. We investigate a GCM setup where a slab ocean is coupled to the atmosphere, and we explore a wide range of CO2 concentrations. We obtain reliable statistical quantities from thousand-year-long simulations. For moderate CO2 concentrations, we find unskewed temporal variations of 1–2 K in global mean surface temperature, with an almost constant climate sensitivity of 2 K. At CO2 concentrations beyond four times the preindustrial value, the climate sensitivity decreases to nearly zero as a result of episodic global cooling events as large as 10 K. The dynamics of these cooling events are investigated in detail and shown to be associated with an increase in large-scale low-level stratiform cloudiness in the subsiding region, which is a result of penetrative shallow convection being capped by an inversion and thus not ventilating the lower troposphere. These dynamics depend on the CO2 concentration: both through the effect of temperature on stratification and through the changing spatial scale of organization of the flow, which determines the spatial scale and temporal coherence of the stratiform cloud sheets.

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