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The magnitudes and timescales of global mean surface temperature feedbacks in climate models

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date15/12/2011
JournalEarth System Dynamics
Journal numbern/a
Volume2
Number of pages9
Pages213-221
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Because of the fundamental role feedbacks play in determining the response of surface temperature to perturbations in radiative forcing, it is important we understand the dynamic characteristics of these feedbacks. Rather than attribute the aggregate surface temperature feedback to particular physical processes, this paper adopts a linear systems approach to investigate the partitioning with respect to the timescale of the feedbacks regulating global mean surface temperature in climate models. The analysis reveals that there is a dominant net negative feedback realised on an annual timescale and that this is partially attenuated by a spectrum of positive feedbacks with characteristic timescales in the range 10 to 1000 yr. This attenuation was composed of two discrete phases which are attributed to the equilibration of "diffusive – mixed layer" and "circulatory – deep ocean" ocean heat uptake. The diffusive equilibration was associated with time constants on the decadal timescale and accounted for approximately 75 to 80 percent of the overall ocean heat feedback, whilst the circulatory equilibration operated on a centennial timescale and accounted for the remaining 20 to 25 percent of the response. This suggests that the dynamics of the transient ocean heat uptake feedback first discussed by Baker and Roe (2009) tends to be dominated by loss of diffusive heat uptake in climate models, rather than circulatory deep ocean heat equilibration.

Bibliographic note

© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.