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Alteration of Atmospheric Solar Absorption by Clouds: Simulation and Observation

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  • a Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • | b Intera Information Technology :Limited, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
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Abstract

This study investigated theoretically and experimentally two parameters employed in recent attempts to address cloud absorption anomaly. One is the ratio, R, of shortwave cloud radiative forcing (CRF) at the surface to that at the top of the atmosphere (TOA), and another is the slope, s, of the regressional relationship between TOA albedo and atmospheric transmittance. The physics and sensitivities of the two parameters were first examined by means of radiative transfer modeling. Neither R nor s is a direct measure of cloud absorption. However, R can indicate the effect of clouds on the atmospheric absorption of solar radiation, if clear-sky condition remains the same. A value of R > 1 implies clouds warm the atmosphere, while the converse is true for R < 1. Model simulations suggest that both R and s are sensitive to many factors, especially cloud height and surface condition. Nonetheless, modeled R rarely exceeds 1.25, and modeled s is generally less than −0.7, except for bright surfaces. The slope s can be related to R under certain conditions. Observational values of R and s were then determined using four years worth of global satellite and ground-based monthly mean solar flux data from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) and the Global Surface Energy Balance Archive (GEBA). The ratio R is highly variable with both location and season and also shows strong interannual variability. Low to moderate values of R, attainable by plane-parallel radiative transfer models, tend to occur over relatively clean regions. Large values of R appear to associate with either heavy pollution in the midlatitudes or frequent occurrence of biomass burning in the Tropics. The large values of R in the Tropics are less reliable than the low and moderate R in the midlatitudes. While this study does not rule out cloud absorption anomaly, it does indicate, however, that its magnitude (if it exists) is not as large, and its occurrence not as widespread, as suggested in some recent reports.

Abstract

This study investigated theoretically and experimentally two parameters employed in recent attempts to address cloud absorption anomaly. One is the ratio, R, of shortwave cloud radiative forcing (CRF) at the surface to that at the top of the atmosphere (TOA), and another is the slope, s, of the regressional relationship between TOA albedo and atmospheric transmittance. The physics and sensitivities of the two parameters were first examined by means of radiative transfer modeling. Neither R nor s is a direct measure of cloud absorption. However, R can indicate the effect of clouds on the atmospheric absorption of solar radiation, if clear-sky condition remains the same. A value of R > 1 implies clouds warm the atmosphere, while the converse is true for R < 1. Model simulations suggest that both R and s are sensitive to many factors, especially cloud height and surface condition. Nonetheless, modeled R rarely exceeds 1.25, and modeled s is generally less than −0.7, except for bright surfaces. The slope s can be related to R under certain conditions. Observational values of R and s were then determined using four years worth of global satellite and ground-based monthly mean solar flux data from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) and the Global Surface Energy Balance Archive (GEBA). The ratio R is highly variable with both location and season and also shows strong interannual variability. Low to moderate values of R, attainable by plane-parallel radiative transfer models, tend to occur over relatively clean regions. Large values of R appear to associate with either heavy pollution in the midlatitudes or frequent occurrence of biomass burning in the Tropics. The large values of R in the Tropics are less reliable than the low and moderate R in the midlatitudes. While this study does not rule out cloud absorption anomaly, it does indicate, however, that its magnitude (if it exists) is not as large, and its occurrence not as widespread, as suggested in some recent reports.

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