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Competing effects of surface albedo and orographic elevated heating on regional climate

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All else being equal, a given atmospheric pressure level is thought to be warmer over a plateau than over surrounding nonelevated terrain because of orographic “elevated heating.” However, elevated surfaces are also typically brighter due to reduced vegetation and increased ice cover. Here we assess the degree to which surface albedo compensates for orographic elevated heating. We confirm that land surface albedo generally increases with surface elevation in observations. Using a cloud system-resolving model, we show that increased surface albedo strongly compensates for orographic elevated heating in radiative-convective equilibrium. A nonelevated surface with the albedo of modern India would enter a runaway greenhouse regime without ventilation by monsoonal winds, while a surface with the albedo and elevation of Tibet would achieve a cooler radiative-convective equilibrium. Surface albedo changes may thus be just as important as surface elevation changes for the evolution of low-latitude regional climate throughout Earth's history.

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