A comparison of low-latitude cloud properties and their response to climate change in three AGCMs sorted into regimes using mid-tropospheric vertical velocity

Matthew C. Wyant, Christopher S. Bretherton, Julio T. Bacmeister, Jeffrey T. Kiehl, Isaac M. Held, Ming Zhao, Stephen A. Klein, Brian J. Soden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

85 Scopus citations


Low-latitude cloud distributions and cloud responses to climate perturbations are compared in near-current versions of three leading U.S. AGCMs, the NCAR CAM 3.0, the GFDL AM2.12b, and the NASA GMAO NSIPP-2 model. The analysis technique of Bony et al. (Clim Dyn 22:71-86, 2004) is used to sort cloud variables by dynamical regime using the monthly mean pressure velocity ω at 500 hPa from 30S to 30N. All models simulate the climatological monthly mean top-of-atmosphere longwave and shortwave cloud radiative forcing (CRF) adequately in all ω-regimes. However, they disagree with each other and with ISCCP satellite observations in regime-sorted cloud fraction, condensate amount, and cloud-top height. All models have too little cloud with tops in the middle troposphere and too much thin cirrus in ascent regimes. In subsidence regimes one model simulates cloud condensate to be too near the surface, while another generates condensate over an excessively deep layer of the lower troposphere. Standardized climate perturbation experiments of the three models are also compared, including uniform SST increase, patterned SST increase, and doubled CO2 over a mixed layer ocean. The regime-sorted cloud and CRF perturbations are very different between models, and show lesser, but still significant, differences between the same model simulating different types of imposed climate perturbation. There is a negative correlation across all general circulation models (GCMs) and climate perturbations between changes in tropical low cloud cover and changes in net CRF, suggesting a dominant role for boundary layer cloud in these changes. For some of the cases presented, upper-level clouds in deep convection regimes are also important, and changes in such regimes can either reinforce or partially cancel the net CRF response from the boundary layer cloud in subsidence regimes. This study highlights the continuing uncertainty in both low and high cloud feedbacks simulated by GCMs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-279
Number of pages19
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2006


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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