, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 5-23

An investigation of cloud cover change in response to thermal forcing

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Abstract

The role of cloud cover in determining the sensitivity of climate has been a source of great uncertainty. This article reviews the distributions of cloud cover change from several climate sensitivity experiments conducted at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of NOAA (GFDL) and other institutions. Two of the sensitivity experiments conducted at GFDL used a general circulation model with a limited computational domain and idealized geography, whereas three other experiments were conducted by the use of a global model with realistic geography. A thermal forcing imposed was either a change of solar constant or that of the CO2-concentration in the atmosphere. It was found that in all five cases, clouds were decreased in the moist, convectively active regions such as the tropical and middle latitude rainbelts, whereas they increased in the stable region near the model surface from middle to higher latitudes. In addition, cloud also increased in the lower model stratosphere and generally decreased in the middle and upper troposphere for practically all latitudes.

A comparison of the cloud changes obtained from investigations carried out at other institutions reveals certain qualitative (but not necessarily quantitative) similarities to the GFDL results. These similarities include a general reduction of tropospheric cloud cover especially in the vicinity of the rainbelts, a general increase of lower stratospheric cloud cover for almost all latitudes and an increase of low stratiform cloud in high latitudes.