Feedback and sensitivity in an electrical circuit: an analog for climate models

Schwartz, Stephen E.
May 2011
Climatic Change;May2011, Vol. 106 Issue 2, p315
Academic Journal
Earth's climate sensitivity is often interpreted in terms of feedbacks that can alter the sensitivity from that of a no-feedback Stefan-Boltzmann radiator, with the feedback concept and algebra introduced by analogy to the use of this concept in the electronics literature. This analogy is quite valuable in interpreting the sensitivity of the climate system, but usage of this algebra and terminology in the climate literature is often inconsistent, with resultant potential for confusion and loss of physical insight. Here a simple and readily understood electrical resistance circuit is examined in terms of feedback theory to introduce and define the terminology that is used to quantify feedbacks. This formalism is applied to the feedbacks in an energy-balance model of Earth's climate and used to interpret the magnitude of feedback in the climate system that corresponds to present estimates of Earth's climate sensitivity.


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