Combining ERBE and ISCCP data to assess clouds in the Hadley Centre, ECMWF and LMD atmospheric climate models
- Cite this article as:
- Webb, M., Senior, C., Bony, S. et al. Climate Dynamics (2001) 17: 905. doi:10.1007/s003820100157
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This study compares radiative fluxes and cloudiness fields from three general circulation models (the HadAM4 version of the Hadley Centre Unified model, cycle 16r2 of the ECMWF model and version LMDZ 2.0 of the LMD GCM), using a combination of satellite observations from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) and the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP). To facilitate a meaningful comparison with the ISCCP C1 data, values of column cloud optical thickness and cloud top pressure are diagnosed from the models in a manner consistent with the satellite view from space. Decomposing the cloud radiative effect into contributions from low-medium- and high-level clouds reveals a tendency for the models' low-level clouds to compensate for underestimates in the shortwave cloud radiative effect caused by a lack of high-level or mid-level clouds. The low clouds fail to compensate for the associated errors in the longwave. Consequently, disproportionate errors in the longwave and shortwave cloud radiative effect in models may be taken as an indication that compensating errors are likely to be present. Mid-level cloud errors in the mid-latitudes appear to depend as much on the choice of the convection scheme as on the cloud scheme. Convective and boundary layer mixing schemes require as much consideration as cloud and precipitation schemes when it comes to assessing the simulation of clouds by models. Two distinct types of cloud feedback are discussed. While there is reason to doubt that current models are able to simulate potential `cloud regime' type feedbacks with skill, there is hope that a model capable of simulating potential `cloud amount' type feedbacks will be achievable once the reasons for the remaining differences between the models are understood.