We examine the sensitivity of a climate model to a wide range of radiative forcings, including changes of solar irradiance, atmospheric CO2, O3, CFCs, clouds, aerosols, surface albedo, and a "ghost" forcing introduced at arbitrary heights, latitudes, longitudes, seasons, and times of day. We show that, in general, the climate response, specifically the global mean temperature change, is sensitive to the altitude, latitude, and nature of the forcing; that is, the response to a given forcing can vary by 50% or more depending upon characteristics of the forcing other than its magnitude measured in watts per square meter. The consistency of the response among different forcings is higher, within 20% or better, for most of the globally distributed forcings suspected of influencing global mean temperature in the past century, but exceptions occur for certain changes of ozone or absorbing aerosols, for which the climate response is less well behaved. In all cases the physical basis for the variations of the response can be understood. The principal mechanisms involve alterations of lapse rate and decrease (increase) of large-scale cloud cover in layers that are preferentially heated (cooled). Although the magnitude of these effects must be model-dependent, the existence and sense of the mechanisms appear to be reasonable. Overall, we reaffirm the value of the radiative forcing concept for predicting climate response and for comparative studies of different forcings; indeed, the present results can help improve the accuracy of such analyses and define error estimates. Our results also emphasize the need for measurements having the specificity and precision needed to define poorly known forcings such as absorbing aerosols and ozone change. Available data on aerosol single scatter albedo imply that anthropogenic aerosols cause less cooling than has commonly been assumed. However, negative forcing due to the net ozone change since 1979 appears to have counterbalanced 30-50% of the positive forcing due to the increase of well-mixed greenhouse gases in the same period. As the net ozone change includes halogen-driven ozone depletion with negative radiative forcing and a tropospheric ozone increase with positive radiative forcing, it is possible that the halogen-driven ozone depletion has counterbalanced more than half of the radiative forcing due to well-mixed greenhouse gases since 1979.
Journal of Geophysical Research
- Pub Date:
- March 1997
- Atmospheric Composition and Structure: Volcanic effects;
- Global Change: Solar variability;
- Meteorology and Atmospheric Dynamics: Climatology;
- Meteorology and Atmospheric Dynamics: Numerical modeling and data assimilation