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Radiative effects of daily cycle of cloud frequency in past and future climates


The daily cloud cycle or diurnal cloud cycle (DCC) and its response to global warming are critical to the Earth’s energy budget, but their radiative effects have not been systematically quantified. Toward this goal, here we analyze the radiation at the top of the atmosphere and propose a measure of the DCC radiative effect (DCCRE) as the difference between the total radiative fluxes with the full cloud cycle and its uniformly distributed cloud counterpart. When applied to the frequency of cloud occurrence, DCCRE is linked to the covariance between DCC and cloud radiative effects. Satellite observations show that the daily cloud cycle is strongly linked to pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) and climate hiatus, revealing its potential role in controlling climate variability. Climate model outputs show large inter-model spreads of DCCRE, accounting for approximately 20% inter-model spread of the cloud radiative effects. Climate models also suggest that while DCCRE is not sensitive to rising temperatures at the global scale, it can be important in certain regions. Such a framework can be used to conduct a more systematic evaluation of the DCC in climate models and observations with the goal to understand climate variability and reduce uncertainty in climate projections.

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We acknowledge support from the USDA Agricultural Research Service cooperative agreement 58-6408-3-027; and National Science Foundation (NSF) grants EAR-1331846, EAR-1316258, FESD EAR-1338694 and the Carbon Mitigation Initiative funded by BP at Princeton University. J.Y. also acknowledges support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant 51739009). The climate model data were downloaded from the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project website ( The satellite data from Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) were obtained from the website ( order_data.php). We thank an anonymous reviewer for useful suggestions, which helped us improve the paper. Models and codes used in the paper are available upon request.

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Correspondence to Jun Yin or Amilcare Porporato.

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Yin, J., Porporato, A. Radiative effects of daily cycle of cloud frequency in past and future climates. Clim Dyn 54, 1625–1637 (2020).

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  • Diurnal cycle of clouds
  • Climate hiatus
  • Pacific decadal oscillation
  • Cloud feedback
  • Cloud radiative kernels
  • Climate change