Atmospheric cloud-radiative heating in CMIP6 and observations, and its response to surface warming
Abstract. Cloud-radiation-interactions are key to Earth's climate and its susceptibility to change. While their impact on Earth's energy budget have been studied in great detail, their effect on atmospheric temperatures have received little attention, despite its importance for the planetary circulation of the atmosphere and hence for regional climate and weather. Here, we present the first systematic assessment of cloud-radiative heating within the atmosphere in 20 CMIP6 models, providing the most comprehensive assessment ever generated and comparing the model simulations to satellite-based estimates of cloud-radiative heating. Our analysis highlights model differences in cloud-radiative heating in both the lower and upper troposphere, as well as uncertainties related to cloud ice processes. Not surprisingly, the response of cloud-radiative heating to surface warming is also uncertain across models. Yet, in the upper troposphere the response is very well predicted by an upward shift of the present-day heating, which we show results from the fact that cloud-radiative heating in the upper troposphere is a function of air temperature and thus decoupled from surface temperature. Our results have three important implications for upper-tropospheric cloud-radiative heating: they establish a new null hypothesis for its response to warming, offer a physics-based prediction of its response to warming based on present-day observations, and emphasize the need for improving its representation in simulations of the present-day climate, possibly by combining the benefits of upcoming km-scale models and satellite observations.
Status: open (until 06 Mar 2024)
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