Effects of Cloud Optical Property Feedbacks on the Greenhouse Warming

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  • 1 Atmospheric and Environmental Research. Inc., Cambridge. Massachusetts
  • | 2 Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, State University of New York, Albany, New York
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Abstract

Cloud optical properties, in particular the optical thickness, affect the earth-atmosphere radiation budget, and their potential changes associated with climate changes may induce feedback effect. A one-dimensional radiative-forcing model was used to illustrate that the difference in the vertical distribution of the radiative forcing between C02 increase and changes of solar constant can result in a different τ feedback. Recently, Wang et al. carried out a general circulation model study of the climatic effect of atmospheric trace gases CH4, CFCS, and N2O, and the model results indicate that these trace gases provide an important radiative energy source for the present climate. Because the radiative-forcing behavior of CO2 is different from that of these other gases, the simulations also show that different radiative forcing can lead to quite different climatic effects. Consequently, increases in these trace gases may also induce different τ feedback than that due to CO2 increase. Since no study was attempted before to address this aspect, here a one-dimensional model is used to investigate the τ feedback associated with trace gases using an updated τ scheme that relates τ to cloud liquid water content through cloud layer latent heat flux. Because of the different changes in the τ vertical distribution the τ feedback is calculated to be a small negative value for a C02 increase, but much larger negative values for increases of trace gases. The strongest negative feedback is found for CFCs.

Similar experiments were also feedback conducted using a revised version of the Somerville and Remer τ scheme, which relates τ to cloud liquid water content through cloud temperature. The results indicate that the negative feedback for C02 increases for a single cloud layer becomes much smaller when multiple-layer clouds are used, mainly due to the compensating effect of changes in τ values between high and low clouds. Because this scheme assumes a strong functional dependence of the local temperature, the τ feedback is also found to be sensitive to model dimensionally. In addition, the strength and sometimes even the sign of the τ feedback calculated from both schemes depend on the vertical distribution of cloud cover for the control climate, indicating the complexity of cloud-radiation interaction Clearly, more observational and theoretical studies are needed to understand the cloud microphysics and their relation to large-scale climate variables.

Abstract

Cloud optical properties, in particular the optical thickness, affect the earth-atmosphere radiation budget, and their potential changes associated with climate changes may induce feedback effect. A one-dimensional radiative-forcing model was used to illustrate that the difference in the vertical distribution of the radiative forcing between C02 increase and changes of solar constant can result in a different τ feedback. Recently, Wang et al. carried out a general circulation model study of the climatic effect of atmospheric trace gases CH4, CFCS, and N2O, and the model results indicate that these trace gases provide an important radiative energy source for the present climate. Because the radiative-forcing behavior of CO2 is different from that of these other gases, the simulations also show that different radiative forcing can lead to quite different climatic effects. Consequently, increases in these trace gases may also induce different τ feedback than that due to CO2 increase. Since no study was attempted before to address this aspect, here a one-dimensional model is used to investigate the τ feedback associated with trace gases using an updated τ scheme that relates τ to cloud liquid water content through cloud layer latent heat flux. Because of the different changes in the τ vertical distribution the τ feedback is calculated to be a small negative value for a C02 increase, but much larger negative values for increases of trace gases. The strongest negative feedback is found for CFCs.

Similar experiments were also feedback conducted using a revised version of the Somerville and Remer τ scheme, which relates τ to cloud liquid water content through cloud temperature. The results indicate that the negative feedback for C02 increases for a single cloud layer becomes much smaller when multiple-layer clouds are used, mainly due to the compensating effect of changes in τ values between high and low clouds. Because this scheme assumes a strong functional dependence of the local temperature, the τ feedback is also found to be sensitive to model dimensionally. In addition, the strength and sometimes even the sign of the τ feedback calculated from both schemes depend on the vertical distribution of cloud cover for the control climate, indicating the complexity of cloud-radiation interaction Clearly, more observational and theoretical studies are needed to understand the cloud microphysics and their relation to large-scale climate variables.

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