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Cloud and Radiative Balance Changes in Response to ENSO in Observations and Models

Author(s): Radley, Claire; Fueglistaler, Stephan; Donner, Leo

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Abstract: The authors use observations and four GFDL AGCMs to analyze the relation between variations in spatial patterns and area-averaged quantities in the top-of-the-atmosphere radiative fluxes, cloud amount, and precipitation related to El Niño over the period 1979–2008. El Niño is associated with an increase in tropical average sea surface temperature of order +0.1 K (with a maxima of +0.5 K), large local anomalies of +2 K (maxima +6 K), and tropical tropospheric warming of +0.5 K (maxima +1 K). The authors find that model-to-observation biases in the base state translate into corresponding biases in anomalies in response to El Niño. The pattern and amplitude of model biases in reflected shortwave (SW) and outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) follows expectations based on their biases in cloud amount: models with a positive cloud amount bias, compared to observations, have too strong local responses to El Niño in cloud amount, SW, OLR, and precipitation. Tropical average OLR increases in response to El Niño in observations and models [correlation coefficients (r) with Niño-3.4 index in the range 0.4–0.6]. Weaker correlations are found for SW (r: −0.6 to 0), cloud amount (r: −0.2 to +0.1), and precipitation (r: −0.2 to 0). Compositing El Niño events over the period 2001–07 yields similar results. These results are consistent with El Niño periods being warmer due to a heat pulse from the ocean, and a weak response in clouds and their radiative effect. These weak responses occur despite a large rearrangement in the spatial structure of the tropical circulation, and despite substantial differences in the mean state of observations and models.
Electronic Publication Date: 23-Apr-2014
Citation: Radley, Claire, Stephan Fueglistaler, and Leo Donner. "Cloud and radiative balance changes in response to ENSO in observations and models." Journal of Climate 27, no. 9 (2014): 3100-3113. DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00338.1.
DOI: doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00338.1
ISSN: 0894-8755
EISSN: 1520-0442
Pages: 3100 - 3113
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Journal of Climate
Version: Final published version. This is an open access article.

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