Higher Atmospheric Mass Increases the Near-Surface Temperature

R. Chemke, Y. Kaspi, I. Halevy. The thermodynamic effect of atmospheric mass on early Earth’s temperature. Geophysical Research Letters. DOI: 10.1002/2016GL071279

Observations suggest that Earth’s early atmospheric mass differed from the present day. The effects of a different atmospheric mass on radiative forcing have been investigated in climate models of variable sophistication, but a mechanistic understanding of the thermodynamic component of the effect of atmospheric mass on early climate is missing. Using a 3D idealized global circulation model (GCM), we systematically examine the thermodynamic effect of atmospheric mass on near-surface temperature. We find that higher atmospheric mass tends to increase the near-surface temperature mostly due an increase in the heat capacity of the atmosphere, which decreases the net radiative cooling effect in the lower layers of the atmosphere. Additionally, the vertical advection of heat by eddies decreases with increasing atmospheric mass, resulting in further near-surface warming. As both net radiative cooling and vertical eddy heat fluxes are extratropical phenomena, higher atmospheric mass tends to flatten the meridional temperature gradient.

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