Geophysikalisches Kolloquium: Some considerations of the concept of climate feedback

A conceptual study of climate feedbacks is carried out using two simple linear two-zone models and the commonly-used zero-dimensional model to which they reduce under simplifying assumptions. The term ‘feedback’ is used in many different senses in the climate literature. Two prototype usages, stability-altering feedback (defined in terms of a system’s asymptotic response to an impulsive forcing, negative when stability-enhancing) and sensitivity-altering feedback (defined in terms of a system’s steady-state response to a step-function forcing, negative when sensitivity-diminishing) have been isolated for study. These two climate feedback concepts are viewed against the background of control theory, which provides a generalized feedback perspective embracing all forms of forcing and which is often seen as providing the paradigm for the concept of feedback as used in climate studies.

The relationship between the prototype climate feedbacks is simple in the context of the zero-dimensional model. Here, the stability-altering and sensitivity-altering feedbacks provided by a given interaction are of the same sign, and the sign of the stability-altering feedback as measured by initial tendencies always coincides with its sign as measured by the defining asymptotic tendencies. Even in this simple model, however, the sign of the prototype climate feedbacks can be opposite to the sign of the system’s feedback as defined in control theory.

In the two-zone models, the relationship between the prototype climate feedbacks is not so simple. It is shown that, contrary to the common assumption, these feedbacks can be of opposite signs. Moreover, the sign of the stability-altering feedback as measured by initial tendencies can be opposite to its sign as measured by asymptotic tendencies. It is further shown that there is no simple relationship between the sign of either of the prototype climate feedbacks in the two-zone models and the sign of these models’ feedback as defined in control theory. These results point to the need for greater precision and explicitness in the definition and use of the term ‘climate feedback’, both to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue in relation to feedback and to guard against erroneous inferences within the climate field. Explicit definitions of the two prototype categories of climate feedback studied here are proposed.

Datum

22.11.2007

Uhrzeit

15:15 Uhr

Ort

Geomatikum H4
Lecture hall H4 (ground floor), University of Hamburg, Bundesstr. 55, Hamburg

ReferentIn

Ray Bates, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


Chair


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