Reassessing the Effect of Cloud Type on Earth’s Energy Balance in the Age of Active Spaceborne Observations. Part I: Top of Atmosphere and Surface Journal Article uri icon



  • AbstractThis study revisits the classical problem of quantifying the radiative effects of unique cloud types in the era of spaceborne active observations. The radiative effects of nine cloud types, distinguished based on their vertical structure defined by CloudSat and CALIPSO observations, are assessed at both the top of the atmosphere and the surface. The contributions from single- and multilayered clouds are explicitly diagnosed. The global, annual mean net cloud radiative effect at the top of the atmosphere is found to be −17.1 ± 4.2 W m−2 owing to −44.2 ± 2 W m−2 of shortwave cooling and 27.1 ± 3.7 W m−2 of longwave heating. Leveraging explicit cloud base and vertical structure information, we further estimate the annual mean net cloud radiative effect at the surface to be −24.8 ± 8.7 W m−2 (−51.1 ± 7.8 W m−2 in the shortwave and 26.3 ± 3.8 W m−2 in the longwave). Multilayered clouds are found to exert the strongest influence on the top-of-atmosphere energy balance. However, a strong asymmetry in net cloud radiative cooling between the hemispheres (8.6 W m−2) is dominated by enhanced cooling from stratocumulus over the southern oceans. It is found that there is no corresponding asymmetry at the surface owing to enhanced longwave emission by southern ocean clouds in winter, which offsets a substantial fraction of their impact on solar absorption in summer. Thus the asymmetry in cloud radiative effects is entirely realized as an atmosphere heating imbalance between the hemispheres.

publication date

  • October 1, 2019

has restriction

  • closed

Date in CU Experts

  • January 29, 2020 10:05 AM

Full Author List

  • L’Ecuyer TS; Hang Y; Matus AV; Wang Z

author count

  • 4

Other Profiles

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0894-8755

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1520-0442

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 6197

end page

  • 6217


  • 32


  • 19