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Radiative Forcing of Climate Change: Expanding the Concept and Addressing Uncertainties
Account for the Vertical Structure of Radiative Forcing
The relationship between TOA radiative forcing and surface temperature is affected by the vertical distribution of radiative forcing within the atmosphere. This effect is dramatic for absorbing aerosols such as black carbon, which may have little TOA forcing but greatly reduce solar radiation reaching the surface. It can also be important for land-use driven changes in the evapotranspiration flux at the surface, which change the energy deposited in the atmosphere without necessarily affecting the surface radiative flux. These effects can be addressed by considering surface as well as TOA radiative forcing as a metric of energy imbalance. The net radiative forcing of the atmosphere can be deduced from the difference between TOA and surface radiative forcing and may be able to provide information on expected changes in precipitation and vertical mixing. Adoption of surface radiative forcing as a new metric will require research to test the ability of climate models to reproduce the observed vertical distribution of forcing (e.g., from aircraft campaigns) and to investigate the response of climate to the vertical structure of the radiative forcing.
Test and improve the ability of climate models to reproduce the observed vertical structure of forcing for a variety of locations and forcing conditions.
Undertake research to characterize the dependence of climate response on the vertical structure of radiative forcing.
Report global mean radiative forcing at both the surface and the top of the atmosphere in climate change assessments.
Determine the Importance of Regional Variation in Radiative Forcing
Regional variations in radiative forcing may have important regional and global climatic implications that are not resolved by the concept of global mean radiative forcing. Tropospheric aerosols and landscape changes have particularly heterogeneous forcings. To date, there have been only limited studies of regional radiative forcing and response. Indeed, it is not clear how best to diagnose a regional forcing and response in the observational record; regional forcings can lead to global climate responses, while global forcings can be associated with regional climate responses. Regional diabatic heating can also cause atmospheric teleconnections that influence regional climate thousands of kilometers away from the point of forcing. Improving societally relevant projections of regional climate impacts will require a better understanding of the magnitudes of regional forcings and the associated climate responses.