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The Influence of the 1998 El Niño upon Cloud-Radiative Forcing over the Pacific Warm Pool

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  • 1 Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York
  • 2 NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia
  • 3 Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York
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Abstract

Clouds cool the climate system by reflecting shortwave radiation and warm it by increasing the atmospheric greenhouse. Previous studies have shown that in tropical regions of deep convection there is a near cancellation between cloud-induced shortwave cooling and longwave warming. The present study investigates the possible influence of the 1998 El Niño upon this near cancellation for the tropical western Pacific’s warm pool; this was accomplished by employing satellite radiometric measurements (Earth Radiation Budget Experiment, and Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System). With the exclusion of the 1998 El Niño, this study also finds near cancellation between the shortwave and longwave cloud forcings and demonstrates that it refers to the average of different cloud types rather than being indicative of a single cloud type. The shortwave cooling slightly dominates the longwave warming, and there is considerable interannual variability in this modest dominance that appears attributable to interannual variability of tropopause temperature. For the strong 1998 El Niño, however, there is a substantially greater tendency toward net radiative cooling, and the physical mechanism for this appears to be a change in cloud vertical structure. For normal years, as well as for the weaker 1987 El Niño, high clouds dominate the radiation budget over the warm pool. In 1998, however, the measurements indicate the radiation budget is partially governed by middle-level clouds, thus explaining the net cooling over the warm pool during the 1998 El Niño as well as emphasizing differences between this event and the weaker 1987 El Niño.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Robert Cess, Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5000.

Email: cess@atmsci.msrc.sunysb.edu

Abstract

Clouds cool the climate system by reflecting shortwave radiation and warm it by increasing the atmospheric greenhouse. Previous studies have shown that in tropical regions of deep convection there is a near cancellation between cloud-induced shortwave cooling and longwave warming. The present study investigates the possible influence of the 1998 El Niño upon this near cancellation for the tropical western Pacific’s warm pool; this was accomplished by employing satellite radiometric measurements (Earth Radiation Budget Experiment, and Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System). With the exclusion of the 1998 El Niño, this study also finds near cancellation between the shortwave and longwave cloud forcings and demonstrates that it refers to the average of different cloud types rather than being indicative of a single cloud type. The shortwave cooling slightly dominates the longwave warming, and there is considerable interannual variability in this modest dominance that appears attributable to interannual variability of tropopause temperature. For the strong 1998 El Niño, however, there is a substantially greater tendency toward net radiative cooling, and the physical mechanism for this appears to be a change in cloud vertical structure. For normal years, as well as for the weaker 1987 El Niño, high clouds dominate the radiation budget over the warm pool. In 1998, however, the measurements indicate the radiation budget is partially governed by middle-level clouds, thus explaining the net cooling over the warm pool during the 1998 El Niño as well as emphasizing differences between this event and the weaker 1987 El Niño.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Robert Cess, Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5000.

Email: cess@atmsci.msrc.sunysb.edu

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