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Preprints, Working Papers, ... Year : 2023

First exploration of the runaway greenhouse transition with a GCM


Even if their detection is for now challenging, observation of small terrestrial planets will be easier in a near future thanks to continuous improvements of detection and characterisation instruments. In this quest, climate modeling is a key step to understand their characteristics, atmospheric composition and possible history. If a surface water reservoir is present on such a terrestrial planet, an increase in insolation may lead to a dramatic positive feedback induced by water evaporation: the runaway greenhouse. The resulting rise of global surface temperature leads to the evaporation of the entire water reservoir, separating two very different population of planets: 1) temperate planets with a surface water ocean and 2) hot planets with a puffed atmosphere dominated by water vapor. In this work we use a 3D General Circulation Model (GCM), the Generic-PCM, to study the runaway greenhouse transition, linking temperate and post-runaway states. Our simulations are made of two steps. First, assuming initially a liquid surface ocean, an evaporation phase which enriches the atmosphere in water vapor. Second, when the ocean is considered entirely evaporated, a dry transition phase for which the surface temperature increases dramatically. Finally, it converges on a hot and stable post-runaway state. By describing in detail the evolution of the climate during these two steps, we show a rapid transition of the cloud coverage and of the wind circulation from the troposphere to the stratosphere. By comparing our result to previous studies using 1D models, we discuss the effect of intrinsically 3D processes such as the global dynamics and the clouds, keys to understand the runaway greenhouse. We also explore the potential reversibility of the runaway greenhouse, limited by its radiative unbalance.

Dates and versions

hal-04263314 , version 1 (28-10-2023)



G. Chaverot, E. Bolmont, M. Turbet. First exploration of the runaway greenhouse transition with a GCM. 2023. ⟨hal-04263314⟩
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