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The contribution of timescales to the temperature response of climate models

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date02/2011
JournalClimate Dynamics
Journal number3-4
Volume36
Number of pages9
Pages523-531
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Both the magnitude and timescale of climate change in response to anthropogenic forcing are important consideration in climate change decision making. Using a familiar, yet simple global energy balance model combined with a novel method for estimating the amount of gain in the global surface temperature response to radiative forcing associated with timescales in the range 10(0)-10(3) years we show that the introduction of large-scale circulation such as meridional overturning leads to the emergence of discrete gain-timescale relationships in the dynamics of this model. This same feature is found in the response of both an intermediate complexity and two atmosphere-ocean general circulation models run to equilibrium. As a result of this emergent property of climate models, it is possible to offer credible partitioning of the full equilibrium gain of these models, and hence their equilibrium climate sensitivity, between two discrete timescales; one decadal associated with near surface ocean heat equilibration; and one centennial associated with deep ocean heat equilibration. Timescales of approximately 20 and 700 years with a 60:40 partitioning of the equilibrium gain are found for the models analysed here. A re-analysis of the emulation results of 19 AOGCMs presented by Meinshausen et al. (Atmos Chem Phys Discuss 8:6153-6272, 2008) indicates timescales of 20 and 580 years with an approximate 50:50 partition of the equilibrium gain between the two. This suggests near equal importance of both short and long timescales in determining equilibrium climate sensitivity.