A positive iris feedback: Insights from climate simulations with temperature-sensitive cloud-rain conversion

R. L. Li, T. Storelvmo, A. V. Fedorov, Y. S. Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Estimates for equilibrium climate sensitivity from current climate models continue to exhibit a large spread, from 2.1 to 4.7 K per carbon dioxide doubling. Recent studies have found that the treatment of precipitation efficiency in deep convective clouds-specifically the conversion rate from cloud condensate to rain Cp-may contribute to the large intermodel spread. It is common for convective parameterization in climate models to carry a constant Cp, although its values are model and resolution dependent. In this study, we investigate how introducing a potential iris feedback, the cloud-climate feedback introduced by parameterizing Cp to increase with surface temperature, affects future climate simulations within a slab ocean configuration of the Community Earth System Model. Progressively stronger dependencies of Cp on temperature unexpectedly increase the equilibrium climate sensitivity monotonically from 3.8 to up to 4.6 K. This positive iris feedback puzzle, in which a reduction in cirrus clouds increases surface temperature, is attributed to changes in the opacity of convectively detrained cirrus. Cirrus clouds reduced largely in ice content and marginally in horizontal coverage, and thus the positive shortwave cloud radiative feedback dominates. The sign of the iris feedback is robust across different cloud macrophysics schemes, which control horizontal cloud cover associated with detrained ice. These results suggest a potentially strong but highly uncertain connection among convective precipitation, detrained anvil cirrus, and the high cloud feedback in a climate forced by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5305-5324
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number16
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).


Dive into the research topics of 'A positive iris feedback: Insights from climate simulations with temperature-sensitive cloud-rain conversion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this