labs_title
Caldeira Lab

Climate Response to Changes in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Solar Irradiance on the Time Scale of Days to Weeks

Long Cao, Govindasamy Bala & Ken Caldeira

Many climate modeling studies focus on the response to changes in external forcings (such as CO2 and aersols) on a timescale of years to centuries. Here we investigate climate response on the time scale of days to weeks to a step-function quadrupling of atmospheric CO2 and compare this with the response to a 4% increase in solar irradiance. We show that significant climate effects occur within days of a stepwise increase in both atmospheric CO2 content and solar irradiance.


Cao, L., G. Bala, and K. Caldeira, 2012: Climate response to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and solar irradiance on the time scale of days to weeks. Environmental Research Letters, 7, 034015, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/3/034015.

 

Abstract

Recent studies show that fast climate response on time scales of less than a month can have important implications for long-term climate change. In this study, we investigate climate response on the time scale of days to weeks to a step-function quadrupling of atmospheric CO2 and contrast this with the response to a 4% increase in solar irradiance. Our simulations show that significant climate effects occur within days of a stepwise increase in both atmospheric CO2 content and solar irradiance. Over ocean, increased atmospheric CO2 warms the lower troposphere more than the surface, increasing atmospheric stability, moistening the boundary layer, and suppressing evaporation and precipitation. In contrast, over ocean, increased solar irradiance warms the lower troposphere to a much lesser extent, causing a much smaller change in evaporation and precipitation. Over land, both increased CO2 and increased solar irradiance cause rapid surface warming that tends to increase both evaporation and precipitation. However, the physiological effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on plant stomata reduces plant transpiration, drying the boundary layer and decreasing precipitation. This effect does not occur with increased solar irradiance. Therefore, differences in climatic effects from CO2 versus solar forcing are manifested within days after the forcing is imposed.