Atmosphere Ocean Science Colloquium

Radiative Convective Equilibrium as a Framework for Studying the Interaction Between Convection and Its Large-Scale Environment

Speaker: Levi Silvers, GFDL

Location: Warren Weaver Hall 1302

Date: Wednesday, October 19, 2016, 3:30 p.m.


An uncertain representation of convective clouds has emerged as one of the key barriers to our understanding of climate sensitivity. The large gap in resolved spatial scales between General Circulation Models (GCMs) and high resolution models has made a systematic study of convective clouds across model configurations difficult. It is shown here that the simulated atmosphere of a GCM in Radiative Convective Equilibrium (RCE) is sufficiently similar across a range of domain sizes to justify the use of RCE to study both a GCM and a high resolution model on the same domain with the goal of improved constraints on the parameterized clouds. Simulations of RCE with parameterized convection have been analyzed on domains with areas spanning more than two orders of magnitude, all having the same grid spacing of 13 km. The simulated climates on different domains are qualitatively similar in their degree of convective organization, the precipitation rates, and the vertical structure of the clouds and water vapor, with the similarity increasing as the domain size increases. Sea surface temperature perturbation experiments are used to estimate the climate feedback parameter for the differently configured experiments, and the cloud radiative effect is computed to examine the role which clouds play in the response. Despite the similar climate states between the domains the feedback parameter varies by more than a factor of two; the hydrological sensitivity is better behaved, varying by a factor of 1.4. The sensitivity of the climate feedback parameter to domain size is related foremost to a nonsystematic response of low-level clouds as well as an increasingly negative longwave feedback on larger domains.