IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Results from the Radiative-Transfer Model Intercomparison Project: Implications for Fidelity of Forcing Projections

Differences in radiative forcing across the multi-model ensemble illustrated in Table 10.2 have been quantified in the Radiative-Transfer Model Intercomparison Project (RTMIP, W.D. Collins et al., 2006). The basis of RTMIP is an evaluation of the forcings computed by 20 AOGCMs using five benchmark line-by-line (LBL) radiative transfer codes. The comparison is focused on the instantaneous clear-sky radiative forcing by the LLGHGs CO2, CH4, N2O, CFC-11, CFC-12 and the increased water vapour expected in warmer climates. The results of this intercomparison are not directly comparable to the estimates of forcing at the tropopause (Chapter 2), since the latter include the effects of stratospheric adjustment. The effects of adjustment on forcing are approximately –2% for CH4, –4% for N2O, +5% for CFC-11, +8% for CFC-12 and –13% for CO2 (IPCC, 1995; Hansen et al., 1997). The total (longwave plus shortwave) radiative forcings at 200 mb, a surrogate for the tropopause, are shown in Table 10.3 for climatological mid-latitude summer conditions.

Total forcings calculated from the AOGCM and LBL codes due to the increase in LLGHGs from 1860 to 2000 differ by less than 0.04, 0.49 and 0.10 W m–2 at the top of model, surface and pseudo-tropopause at 200mb, respectively (Table 10.3). Based upon the Student t-test, none of the differences in mean forcings shown in Table 10.3 is statistically significant at the 0.01 level. This indicates that the ensemble mean forcings are in reasonable agreement with the LBL codes. However, the forcings from individual models, for example from doubled atmospheric CO2, span a range at least 10 times larger than that exhibited by the LBL models.

The forcings from doubling atmospheric CO2 from its concentration at 1860 AD are shown in Figure 10.3a at the top of the model (TOM), 200 hPa (Table 10.3), and the surface. The AOGCMs tend to underestimate the longwave forcing at these three levels. The relative differences in the mean forcings are less than 8% for the pseudo-tropopause at 200 hPa but increase to approximately 13% at the TOM and to 33% at the surface. In general, the mean shortwave forcings from the LBL and AOGCM codes are in good agreement at all three surfaces. However, the range in shortwave forcing at the surface from individual AOGCMs is quite large. The coefficient of variation (the ratio of the standard deviation to the mean) for the surface shortwave forcing from AOGCMs is 0.95. In response to a doubling in atmospheric CO2, the specific humidity increases by approximately 20% through much of the troposphere. The changes in shortwave and longwave fluxes due to a 20% increase in water vapour are illustrated in Figure 10.3b. The mean longwave forcing from increasing water vapour is quite well simulated with the AOGCM codes. In the shortwave, the only significant difference between the AOGCM and LBL calculations occurs at the surface, where the AOGCMs tend to underestimate the magnitude of the reduction in insolation. In general, the biases in the AOGCM forcings are largest at the surface level.

Table 10.3. Total instantaneous forcing at 200 hPa (W m–2) from AOGCMs and LBL codes in RTMIP (W.D. Collins et al., 2006). Calculations are for cloud-free climatological mid-latitude summer conditions.

Radiative Species  CO2  CO2  N2O + CFCs  CH4 + CFCs  All LLGHGs  Water Vapour 
Forcinga  2000–1860  2x–1x  2000–1860  2000–1860  2000–1860  1.2x–1x 
AOGCM mean  1.56  4.28  0.47  0.95  2.68  4.82 
AOGCM std. dev.  0.23  0.66  0.15  0.30  0.30  0.34 
LBL mean  1.69  4.75  0.38  0.73  2.58  5.08 
LBL std. dev.  0.02  0.04  0.12  0.12  0.11  0.16 


a 2000–1860 is the forcing due to an increase in the concentrations of radiative species between 1860 and 2000. 2x–1x× and 1.2x–1x are forcings from increases in radiative species by 100% and 20% relative to 1860 concentrations.

Figure 10.3

Figure 10.3. Comparison of shortwave and longwave instantaneous radiative forcings and flux changes computed from AOGCMs and line-by-line (LBL) radiative transfer codes (W.D. Collins et al., 2006). (a) Instantaneous forcing from doubling atmospheric CO2 from its concentration in 1860; b) changes in radiative fluxes caused by the 20% increase in water vapour expected in the climate produced from doubling atmospheric CO2. The forcings and flux changes are computed for clear-sky conditions in mid-latitude summer and do not include effects of stratospheric adjustment. No other well-mixed greenhouse gases are included. The minimum-to-maximum range and median are plotted for five representative LBL codes. The AOGCM results are plotted with box-and-whisker diagrams (see caption for Figure 10.2) representing percentiles of forcings from 20 models in the AR4 multi-model ensemble. The AOGCMs included are BCCRBCM2.0, CCSM3, CGCM3.1(T47 and T63), CNRMCM3, ECHAM5/MPIOM, ECHOG, FGOALSg1.0, GFDLCM2.0, GFDLCM2.1, GISSEH, GISSER, INMCM3.0, IPSLCM4, MIROC3.2 (medium and high resolution), MRICGCM2.3.2, PCM, UKMOHadCM3, and UKMOHadGEM1 (see Table 8.1 for model details). The LBL codes are the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) LBL, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) LBL3, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)/Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine (ICSTM) general LBL GENLN2, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Langley Research Center MRTA and the University of Reading Reference Forward Model (RFM).