A key disagreement exists between global climate model (GCM) simulations and satellite observations of the decadal variability in the tropical-mean radiation budget. Measurements from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) over the period 1984-2001 indicate a trend of increasing longwave emission and decreasing shortwave reflection that no GCM can currently reproduce. Motivated by these results, a series of model sensitivity experiments is performed to investigate hypotheses that have been advanced to explain this discrepancy. Specifically, the extent to which a strengthening of the Hadley circulation or a change in convective precipitation efficiency can alter the tropical-mean radiation budget is assessed. Results from both model sensitivity experiments and an empirical analysis of ERBE observations suggest that the tropical-mean radiation budget is remarkably insensitive to changes in the tropical circulation. The empirical estimate suggests that it would require at least a doubling in strength of the Hadley circulation in order to generate the observed decadal radiative flux changes. In contrast, rather small changes in a model's convective precipitation efficiency can generate changes comparable to those observed, provided that the precipitation efficiency lies near the upper end of its possible range. If, however, the precipitation efficiency of tropical convective systems is more moderate, the model experiments suggest that the climate would be rather insensitive to changes in its value. Further observations are necessary to constrain the potential effects of microphysics on the top-of-atmosphere radiation budget.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Atmospheric Science