The effective climate sensitivity estimates the equilibrium response of near-surface temperature to doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and is a widely used metric to characterize potential global warming. Earth system models participating in phase 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) exhibit considerable spread in effective climate sensitivity estimates. Cloud feedbacks are thought to be the cause of this, with marine boundary layer clouds over the Southern Ocean playing an important role. Here, we show that Southern Ocean deep convection is a major contributor to the CMIP6 intermodel spread in effective climate sensitivity. By comparing two Earth system models with very different sensitivities, we find that greater storage of heat at depth can delay the Southern Ocean surface warming and associated cloud response, thereby delaying global surface warming by centuries. The link between Southern Ocean convection and effective climate sensitivity is seen across 41 CMIP6 models, with low-sensitivity models exhibiting substantial deep ocean warming. Our results reveal the influence of Southern Ocean convection on potential long-term climate warming.
Shutdown of Southern Ocean convection controls long-term greenhouse gas-induced warming