Mixed-phase clouds are comprised of both liquid droplets and ice crystals. For a given total water content, mixed-phase clouds with higher liquid water contents are optically thicker and therefore more reflective to sunlight compared to those with higher ice water contents. This is due to the fact that liquid droplets tend to be smaller in size and more abundant than ice crystals in Earth’s atmosphere. Given the ubiquity of mixed-phase clouds, the ratio of liquid to ice in these clouds is expected to be important for Earth’s radiation budget. We determine the climatic impact of the partitioning of liquid and ice in mixed-phase clouds by using five pairs of simulations run with CAM5/CESM. Of the five pairs of simulations, the partitioning of liquid and ice of two of the simulations were constrained to better agree with observations from CALIPSO. The other three pairs of simulations include a control simulation, as well as an upper and lower bound simulation with maximally high and low amounts of mixed-phase cloud liquid fractions. An analysis of the simulations shows that a negative “cloud phase feedback” that occurs due to the repartitioning of cloud droplets and ice crystals under global warming is weakened when mixed-phase clouds initially contain a higher amount of liquid. Simulations that exhibited weaker cloud phase feedbacks also had higher climate sensitivities. The results suggest that an unrealistically strong cloud phase feedback leading to lower climate sensitivities may be lurking in the many climate models that underestimate mixed-phase cloud liquid fractions compared to observations.
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