The response of radiation budgets to changes in water vapor and clouds in an El Niño episode is investigated using the analyzed sea surface temperature and satellite-derived clouds and the earth radiation budgets for the tropical Pacific (30°N–30°S, 100°E–100°W). Analyses are performed for April 1985 and April 1987. The former is a non-El Niño year and the latter is an El Niño year. Compared to April 1985, when the SST over the central and eastern equatorial Pacific is approximately 2°C lower, the high-level cloudiness in April 1987 increases in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. Corresponding to the increase in cloudiness, the outgoing longwave radiation and the net downward solar radiation at the top of the atmosphere decrease. The patterns of thew changes are reversed in the western tropical Pacific and the Northern Hemispheric (NH) subsidence region centered at approximately 20°N, indicating an eastward shift of the convection center from the maritime continents to the central equatorial Pacific and a strengthened NH Hadley circulation.
The earth-atmosphere system in the region receives less radiative energy by 4 W m−2 in the warmer month of April 1987 than in the month of April 1985, which is primarily caused by a reduced atmospheric clear sky greenhouse effect in the NH tropical Pacific in April 1987. Clouds have strong effect on both the IR and solar radiation, but the net cited on the radiation budget at the top of the atmosphere changes only slightly between April 1985 and April 1987. The results are consistent with Lindzen's hypothesis that reduced upper-tropospheric water vapor in the vicinity of the enhanced convection region produces cooling that counteracts warming in the Tropics.