Links between climate sensitivity and the large-scale atmospheric circulation in a simple general circulation model

Luke L. B. Davis, David W. J. Thompson, Thomas Birner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thermodynamical and dynamical aspects of the climate system response to anthropogenic forcing are often considered in two distinct frameworks: the former in the context of the forcing–feedback framework, and the latter in the context of eddy–mean flow feedbacks and large-scale thermodynamic constraints. Here we use experiments with the dynamical core of a general circulation model (GCM) to provide insights into the relationships between these two frameworks. We first demonstrate that the climate feedbacks and climate sensitivity in a dynamical core model are determined by its prescribed thermal relaxation time scales. We then perform two experiments: one that explores the relationships between the thermal relaxation time scale and the climatological circulation, and a second that explores the relationships between the thermal relaxation time scale and the circulation response to a global warming–like forcing perturbation. The results indicate that shorter relaxation time scales (i.e., lower climate sensitivities in the context of a dynamical core model) are associated with 1) a more vigorous large-scale circulation, including increased thermal diffusivity and stronger and more poleward storm tracks and eddy-driven jets, and 2) a weaker poleward displacement of the storm tracks and eddy-driven jets in response to the global warming–like forcing perturbation. Interestingly, the circulation response to the forcing perturbation effectively disappears when the thermal relaxation time scales are spatially uniform, suggesting that the circulation response to homogeneous forcing requires spatial inhomogeneities in the local feedback parameter. Implications for anticipating the circulation response to global warming and thermodynamic constraints on the circulation are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5119–5136
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number15
Early online date14 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022

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