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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 18, issue 7 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 18, 5147-5155, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-18-5147-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 17 Apr 2018

Research article | 17 Apr 2018

The influence of internal variability on Earth's energy balance framework and implications for estimating climate sensitivity

Andrew E. Dessler1, Thorsten Mauritsen2, and Bjorn Stevens2 Andrew E. Dessler et al.
  • 1Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA
  • 2Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstraße 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

Abstract. Our climate is constrained by the balance between solar energy absorbed by the Earth and terrestrial energy radiated to space. This energy balance has been widely used to infer equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) from observations of 20th-century warming. Such estimates yield lower values than other methods, and these have been influential in pushing down the consensus ECS range in recent assessments. Here we test the method using a 100-member ensemble of the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM1.1) simulations of the period 1850–2005 with known forcing. We calculate ECS in each ensemble member using energy balance, yielding values ranging from 2.1 to 3.9K. The spread in the ensemble is related to the central assumption in the energy budget framework: that global average surface temperature anomalies are indicative of anomalies in outgoing energy (either of terrestrial origin or reflected solar energy). We find that this assumption is not well supported over the historical temperature record in the model ensemble or more recent satellite observations. We find that framing energy balance in terms of 500hPa tropical temperature better describes the planet's energy balance.

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One of the most important parameters in climate science is the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS). Estimates of this quantity based on 20th-century observations suggest low values of ECS (below 2 °C). We show that these calculations may be significantly in error. Together with other recent work on this problem, it seems probable that the ECS is larger than suggested by the 20th-century observations.
One of the most important parameters in climate science is the equilibrium climate sensitivity...
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