Despite the general agreement that clouds cool the earth–atmosphere, there are substantial differences in estimated magnitudes of the annual global mean of cloud radiative forcing. Recent estimates of globally averaged net cloud radiative forcing range from −2 to −27 W m−2. The reasons for these differences have not been clarified in spite of the important role of clouds in maintaining global heat balance. Here, three estimation methods [Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE), Regression I, and Regression II] are compared using the same data source and analysis period.

Intercomparison has been done for the time period of February and March 1985 over which major satellite radiation budget and cloudiness datasets (ERBE radiation budget, Nimbus-7, and ISCCP cloudiness) are contemporaneous. The global averages of five sets of net cloud radiative forcing by three independent methods agree to within 3.5 W m−2; four of five cases agree to within 1 W m−2. This suggests that differences in published global mean values of net cloud radiative forcing are mainly due to different data sources and analysis periods and a best estimated annual mean among all previous estimates appears to be the ERBE measurement, that is, −17.3 W m−2. In contrast to the close agreement in the net cloud radiative forcing estimates, both longwave and shortwave cloud radiative forcing show more dependence on the chosen method and dataset. The bias of regression-retrieved values between Nimbus-7 and ISCCP cloud climatology is largely attributed to the difference in total cloudiness between two climatologies whereas the discrepancies between the ERBE and regression method appear to be, in part, due to the conceptually different definition of clear-sky flux.

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*Universities Space Research Association