Cloud feedbacks have long been identified as one of the largest source of uncertainty in climate change predictions. Differences in the spatial distribution of clouds and the related impact on surface temperature and climate dynamics have been recently emphasized in quasi-equilibrium General Circulation Models (GCM). However, much less attention has been paid to the temporal variation of cloud presence and thickness. Clouds in fact shade the solar radiation during the daytime, but also acts as greenhouse gas to reduce the emission of longwave radiation to the outer space anytime of the day. Thus it is logical to expect that even small differences in timing and thickness of clouds could result in very different predictions in GCMs. In this study, these two effects of cloud dynamics are analyzed by tracking the cloud impacts on longwave and shortwave radiation in a minimalist transient thermal balance model of the land surface. The marked changes in surface temperature due to alterations in the timing of onset of clouds demonstrate that capturing temporal variation of cloud at sub-daily scale should be a priority in cloud parameterization schemes in GCMs.
Porporato, A.M., and J. Yin (2015): Impact of cloud timing on surface temperature and related hydroclimatic dynamics. American Geophysical Union 2015 Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA.
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.