Understanding the Extratropical Liquid Water Path Feedback in Mixed-Phase Clouds with an Idealized Global Climate Model
A negative shortwave cloud feedback associated with higher extratropical liquid water content in mixed-phase clouds is a common feature of global warming simulations, and multiple mechanisms have been hypothesized. A set of process-level experiments performed with an idealized global climate model (a dynamical core with passive water and cloud tracers and full Rotstayn-Klein single-moment microphysics) show that the common picture of the liquid water path (LWP) feedback in mixed-phase clouds being controlled by the amount of ice susceptible to phase change is not robust. Dynamic condensate processes—rather than static phase partitioning—directly change with warming, with varied impacts on liquid and ice amounts. Here, three principal mechanisms are responsible for the LWP response, namely higher adiabatic cloud water content, weaker liquid-to-ice conversion through the Bergeron-Findeisen process, and faster melting of ice and snow to rain. Only melting is accompanied by a substantial loss of ice, while the adiabatic cloud water content increase gives rise to a net increase in ice water path (IWP) such that total cloud water also increases without an accompanying decrease in precipitation efficiency. Perturbed parameter experiments with a wide range of climatological LWP and IWP demonstrate a strong dependence of the LWP feedback on the climatological LWP and independence from the climatological IWP and supercooled liquid fraction. This idealized setup allows for a clean isolation of mechanisms and paints a more nuanced picture of the extratropical mixed-phase cloud water feedback than simple phase change.