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An energy balance model exploration of the impacts of interactions between surface albedo, cloud cover and water vapor on polar amplification

Södergren, A. Helena, McDonald, Adrian J., Bodeker, Gregory E.
Climate dynamics 2018 v.51 no.5-6 pp. 1639-1658
absorption, climatic factors, cloud cover, energy balance, greenhouse effect, latitude, models, surface temperature, water vapor, Polar Regions
We examine the effects of non-linear interactions between surface albedo, water vapor and cloud cover (referred to as climate variables) on amplified warming of the polar regions, using a new energy balance model. Our simulations show that the sum of the contributions to surface temperature changes due to any variable considered in isolation is smaller than the temperature changes from coupled feedback simulations. This non-linearity is strongest when all three climate variables are allowed to interact. Surface albedo appears to be the strongest driver of this non-linear behavior, followed by water vapor and clouds. This is because increases in longwave radiation absorbed by the surface, related to increases in water vapor and clouds, and increases in surface absorbed shortwave radiation caused by a decrease in surface albedo, amplify each other. Furthermore, our results corroborate previous findings that while increases in cloud cover and water vapor, along with the greenhouse effect itself, warm the polar regions, water vapor also significantly warms equatorial regions, which reduces polar amplification. Changes in surface albedo drive large changes in absorption of incoming shortwave radiation, thereby enhancing surface warming. Unlike high latitudes, surface albedo change at low latitudes are more constrained. Interactions between surface albedo, water vapor and clouds drive larger increases in temperatures in the polar regions compared to low latitudes. This is in spite of the fact that, due to a forcing, cloud cover increases at high latitudes and decreases in low latitudes, and that water vapor significantly enhances warming at low latitudes.