Articles | Volume 4, issue 2
Research article
02 Aug 2013
Research article |  | 02 Aug 2013

The sensitivity of the modeled energy budget and hydrological cycle to CO2 and solar forcing

N. Schaller, J. Cermak, M. Wild, and R. Knutti

Abstract. The transient responses of the energy budget and the hydrological cycle to CO2 and solar forcings of the same magnitude in a global climate model are quantified in this study. Idealized simulations are designed to test the assumption that the responses to forcings are linearly additive, i.e. whether the response to individual forcings can be added to estimate the responses to the combined forcing, and to understand the physical processes occurring as a response to a surface warming caused by CO2 or solar forcing increases of the same magnitude. For the global climate model considered, the responses of most variables of the energy budget and hydrological cycle, including surface temperature, do not add linearly. A separation of the response into a forcing and a feedback term shows that for precipitation, this non-linearity arises from the feedback term, i.e. from the non-linearity of the temperature response and the changes in the water cycle resulting from it. Further, changes in the energy budget show that less energy is available at the surface for global annual mean latent heat flux, and hence global annual mean precipitation, in simulations of transient CO2 concentration increase compared to simulations with an equivalent transient increase in the solar constant. On the other hand, lower tropospheric water vapor increase is similar between simulations with CO2 and solar forcing increase of the same magnitude. The response in precipitation is therefore more muted compared to the response in water vapor in CO2 forcing simulations, leading to a larger increase in residence time of water vapor in the atmosphere compared to solar forcing simulations. Finally, energy budget calculations show that poleward atmospheric energy transport increases more in solar forcing compared to equivalent CO2 forcing simulations, which is in line with the identified strong increase in large-scale precipitation in solar forcing scenarios.

Final-revised paper