Cloud properties and their projected changes in CMIP models with low to high climate sensitivity

Bock, Lisa; Lauer, Axel

Since the release of the first Coupled Model Intercomparison Project version 6 (CMIP6) simulations, one of the most discussed topics is the higher effective climate sensitivity (ECS) of some of the models, resulting in an increased range of ECS values in CMIP6 compared to previous CMIP phases. An important contribution to ECS is the cloud climate feedback. Although climate models have continuously been developed and improved over the last few decades, a realistic representation of clouds remains challenging. Clouds contribute to the large uncertainties in modeled ECS, as projected changes in cloud properties and cloud feedbacks also depend on the simulated present-day fields.

In this study, we investigate the representation of both cloud physical and radiative properties from a total of 51 CMIP5 and CMIP6 models. ECS is used as a simple metric to group the models, as the sensitivity of the physical cloud properties to warming is closely related to cloud feedbacks, which in turn are known to have a large contribution to ECS. Projected changes in the cloud properties in future scenario simulations are analyzed by the ECS group. In order to help with interpreting the projected changes, model results from historical simulations are also analyzed.

The results show that differences in the net cloud radiative effect as a reaction to warming among the three model groups are driven by changes in a range of cloud regimes rather than individual regions. In polar regions, high-ECS models show a weaker increase in the net cooling effect of clouds, due to warming, than the low-ECS models. At the same time, high-ECS models show a decrease in the net cooling effect of clouds over the tropical ocean and the subtropical stratocumulus regions, whereas low-ECS models show either little change or even an increase in the cooling effect. Over the Southern Ocean, the low-ECS models show a higher sensitivity of the net cloud radiative effect to warming than the high-ECS models.



Bock, Lisa / Lauer, Axel: Cloud properties and their projected changes in CMIP models with low to high climate sensitivity. 2024. Copernicus Publications.


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