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

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Mauritsen,  Thorsten
Climate Dynamics, The Atmosphere in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Stevens,  Bjorn
Director’s Research Group AES, The Atmosphere in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Dessler, A., Mauritsen, T., & Stevens, B. (2018). The influence of internal variability on Earth's energy balance framework and implications for estimating climate sensitivity. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 18, 5147-5155. doi:10.5194/acp-18-5147-2018.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-5289-4
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 3.9 K. 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 500 hPa tropical temperature better describes the planet's energy balance.