On the Interplay Between Convective Aggregation, Surface Temperature Gradients, and Climate Sensitivity
This study explores the extent to which convective aggregation interacts with sea surface temperature (SST) and affects climate sensitivity. For this purpose, radiative-convective equilibrium simulations are run with a general circulation model coupled to an ocean mixed layer, and several types of perturbations are imposed to the ocean-atmosphere system. Convective aggregation turns out to be much more sensitive to temperature in coupled experiments than in prescribed SST experiments. But changes in convective aggregation induced by a doubling of the CO2 concentration are always smaller than changes associated with the transition from a non-aggregated to an aggregated state. If aggregation changes were acting alone, they would exert a strong negative feedback on global mean surface temperature. However, in a coupled framework, aggregation changes interact with the SST and generate SST gradients that strengthen the positive low-cloud feedback associated with changes in SST pattern. This overcompensates the negative feedback due to aggregation changes and leads to a larger equilibrium climate sensitivity than in the absence of SST gradients. Although this effect might be model specific, interactions between convective aggregation and the spatial distribution of SST appear crucial to assess the impact of convective aggregation on climate sensitivity.