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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2018-97
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Research article
14 Feb 2018
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).
The importance of mixed-phase clouds for climate sensitivity in the global aerosol-climate model ECHAM6-HAM2
Ulrike Lohmann and David Neubauer Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Abstract. Clouds are important in the climate system because of their large influence on the radiation budget. On the one hand, they scatter solar radiation and with that cool the climate. On the other hand, they absorb and re-emit terrestrial radiation, which causes a warming. How clouds change in a warmer climate is one of the largest uncertainties for the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS). While a large spread in the cloud feedback arises from low-level clouds, it was recently shown that also mixed-phase clouds are important for ECS. If mixed-phase clouds in the current climate contain too few supercooled cloud droplets, too much ice will change to liquid water in a warmer climate. As shown by Tan et al. (2016), this overestimates the negative cloud phase feedback and underestimates ECS in the CAM global climate model (GCM). Here we are using the newest version of the ECHAM6-HAM2 GCM to investigate the importance of mixed-phase clouds for ECS.

Although we also considerably underestimate the fraction of supercooled liquid water globally in the reference version of ECHAM6-HAM2 GCM, we do not obtain increases in ECS in simulations with more supercooled liquid water in the present-day climate, contrary to the findings by Tan et al. (2016). We hypothesize that it is not the global supercooled liquid water fraction that matters, but only how well low- and mid-level mixed-phase clouds with cloud top temperatures in the mixed-phase temperature range between 0 and −35 ºC are simulated. These occur most frequent in mid-latitudes, in particular over the Southern Ocean where they determine the amount of absorbed shortwave radiation. In ECHAM6-HAM2 the amount of absorbed shortwave radiation over the Southern Ocean is only overestimated if all clouds below 0 ºC consist exclusively of ice and only in this simulation is ECS is significantly smaller than in all other simulations. Hence, the negative cloud phase feedback seems to be important only if the optically thin low- and mid-level mid-latitude clouds have the wrong phase (ice instead of liquid water) in the absence of overlying clouds. In all other simulations, changes in cloud feedbacks associated with cloud amount and cloud top pressure, dominate.


Citation: Lohmann, U. and Neubauer, D.: The importance of mixed-phase clouds for climate sensitivity in the global aerosol-climate model ECHAM6-HAM2, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2018-97, in review, 2018.
Ulrike Lohmann and David Neubauer
Ulrike Lohmann and David Neubauer
Ulrike Lohmann and David Neubauer

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Short summary
The climate is warming, at the current rate so much that the 2 ºC target is likely to be overdrawn. Uncertainty remains when the 2 ºC warming will be reached. One factor contributing to this uncertainty is how clouds are changing in the warmer climate. While previously most emphasis was placed on how low clouds change in the warmer climate, here we investigate the importance of mixed-phase clouds, that consist of cloud droplets and ice crystals.
The climate is warming, at the current rate so much that the 2 ºC target is likely to be...
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