Hemispheric symmetry of the Earth's Energy Balance as a fundamental constraint on the Earth's climate

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Thursday, 6 February 2014: 9:00 AM
Room C102 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Graeme L. Stephens, JPL, Pasadena, CA; and P. J. Webster and D. M. O'Brien

We currently lack a quantitative understanding of how the Earth's energy balance and the poleward energy transport adjust to different forcings that determine climate change. Currently, there are no constraints that guide this understanding. We will demonstrate that the Earth's energy balance exhibits a remarkable symmetry about the equator, and that this symmetry is a necessary condition of a steady state climate. Our analysis points to clouds as the principal agent that highly regulates this symmetry and sets the steady state. The existence of this thermodynamic steady-state constraint on climate and the symmetry required to sustain it leads to important inferences about the synchronous nature of climate changes between hemispheres, offering for example insights on mechanisms that can sustain global ice ages forced by asymmetric hemispheric solar radiation variations or how climate may respond to increases in greenhouse gas concentration. Further inferences regarding cloud effects on climate can also be deduced without resorting to the complex and intricate processes of cloud formation, whose representation continues to challenge the climate modeling community. The constraint suggests cloud feedbacks must be negative buffering the system against change. We will show that this constraint doesn't exist in the current CMIP5 model experiments and the lack of such a constraint suggests thee is insufficient buffering the response to external forcings.