The Effect of Clouds on the Earth's Solar and Infrared Radiation Budgets

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, University of Wisconsin, Madison 53706, and NASA Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheric Science, Greenbelt, MD 20771
  • | 2 NASA Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheric Science, Greenbelt, MD 20771
  • | 3 Sigma Data Services Corp., c/o NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771
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Abstract

The effect of global cloudiness on the solar and infrared components of the earth's radiation balance is studied in general circulation model experiments. A wintertime simulation is conducted in which the cloud radiative transfer calculations use realistic cloud optical properties and are fully interactive with model-generated cloudiness. This simulation is compared to others in which the clouds are alternatively non-interactive with respect to the solar or thermal radiation calculations. Other cloud processes (formation, latent heat release, precipitation, vertical mixing) were accurately simulated in these experiments.

We conclude that on a global basis clouds increase the global radiation balance by 40 W m−2 by absorbing longwave radiation, but decrease it by 56 W m−2 by reflecting solar radiation to space. The net cloud effect is therefore a reduction of the radiation balance by 16 W m−2, and is dominated by the cloud albedo effect.

Changes in cloud frequency and distribution and in atmospheric and land temperatures are also reported for the control and for the non-interactive simulations. In general, removal of the clouds’ infrared absorption cools the atmosphere and causes additional cloudiness to occur, while removal of the clouds’ solar radiative properties warms the atmosphere and causes fewer clouds to form. It is suggested that layered clouds and convective clouds over water enter the climate system as positive feedback components, while convective clouds over land enter as negative components.

Abstract

The effect of global cloudiness on the solar and infrared components of the earth's radiation balance is studied in general circulation model experiments. A wintertime simulation is conducted in which the cloud radiative transfer calculations use realistic cloud optical properties and are fully interactive with model-generated cloudiness. This simulation is compared to others in which the clouds are alternatively non-interactive with respect to the solar or thermal radiation calculations. Other cloud processes (formation, latent heat release, precipitation, vertical mixing) were accurately simulated in these experiments.

We conclude that on a global basis clouds increase the global radiation balance by 40 W m−2 by absorbing longwave radiation, but decrease it by 56 W m−2 by reflecting solar radiation to space. The net cloud effect is therefore a reduction of the radiation balance by 16 W m−2, and is dominated by the cloud albedo effect.

Changes in cloud frequency and distribution and in atmospheric and land temperatures are also reported for the control and for the non-interactive simulations. In general, removal of the clouds’ infrared absorption cools the atmosphere and causes additional cloudiness to occur, while removal of the clouds’ solar radiative properties warms the atmosphere and causes fewer clouds to form. It is suggested that layered clouds and convective clouds over water enter the climate system as positive feedback components, while convective clouds over land enter as negative components.

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