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Sanchez-Lorenzo, A, Enriquez-Alonso A, Calbo J, Gonzalez JA, Wild M, Folini D, Norris JR, Vicente-Serrano SM.  2017.  Fewer clouds in the Mediterranean: consistency of observations and climate simulations. Scientific Reports. 7   10.1038/srep41475   AbstractWebsite

Clouds play a major role in the climate system, but large uncertainties remain about their decadal variations. Here we report a widespread decrease in cloud cover since the 1970 s over the Mediterranean region, in particular during the 1970 s-1980 s, especially in the central and eastern areas and during springtime. Confidence in these findings is high due to the good agreement between the interannual variations of cloud cover provided by surface observations and several satellite-derived and reanalysis products, although some discrepancies exist in their trends. Climate model simulations of the historical experiment from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) also exhibit a decrease in cloud cover over the Mediterranean since the 1970 s, in agreement with surface observations, although the rate of decrease is slightly lower. The observed northward expansion of the Hadley cell is discussed as a possible cause of detected trends.

Li, KF, Su H, Mak SN, Chang TM, Jiang JH, Norris JR, Yung YL.  2017.  An analysis of high cloud variability: imprints from the El Nino-Southern Oscillation. Climate Dynamics. 48:447-457.   10.1007/s00382-016-3086-7   AbstractWebsite

Using data from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP), we examine how near-global (60A degrees N-60A degrees S) high cloud fraction varies over time in the past three decades. Our focus is on identifying dominant modes of variability and associated spatial patterns, and how they are related to sea surface temperature. By performing the principal component analysis, we find that the first two principal modes of high cloud distribution show strong imprints of the two types of El Nio-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-the canonical ENSO and the ENSO Modoki. Comparisons between ISCCP data and 14 models from the Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (AMIP5) show that models simulate the spatial pattern and the temporal variations of high cloud fraction associated with the canonical ENSO very well but the magnitudes of the canonical ENSO vary among the models. Furthermore, the multi-model mean of the second principal mode in the AMIP5 simulations appears to capture the temporal behavior of the second mode but individual AMIP5 models show large discrepancies in capturing observed temporal variations. A new metric, defined by the relative variances of the first two principal components, suggests that most of the AMIP5 models overestimate the second principal mode of high clouds.

Enriquez-Alonso, A, Sanchez-Lorenzo A, Calbó J, González J-A, Norris JR.  2016.  Cloud cover climatologies in the Mediterranean obtained from satellites, surface observations, reanalyses, and CMIP5 simulations: validation and future scenarios. Climate Dynamics. 47:249-269.   10.1007/s00382-015-2834-4   Abstract

Clouds are an important regulator of climate due to their connection to the water balance of the atmosphere and their interaction with solar and infrared radiation. In this study, monthly total cloud cover (TCC) records from different sources have been inter-compared on annual and seasonal basis for the Mediterranean region and the period 1984–2005. Specifically, gridded databases from satellite projects (ISCCP, CLARA, PATMOS-x), from reanalysis products (ERA-Interim, MERRA), and from surface observations over land (EECRA) and ocean (ICOADS) have been examined. Then, simulations from 44 climate runs of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 corresponding to the historical scenario have been compared against the observations. Overall, we find good agreement between the mean values of TCC estimated from the three satellite products and from surface observations, while reanalysis products show much lower values across the region. Nevertheless, all datasets show similar behavior regarding the annual cycle of TCC. In addition, our results indicate an underestimation of TCC from climate model simulations as compared to the satellite products, especially during summertime, although the annual cycle is well simulated by most models. This result is quite general and apparently independent of the cloud parameterizations included in each particular model. Equally, similar results are obtained if the ISCCP simulator included in the Cloud Feedback Model Intercomparison Project Observation Simulator Package is considered, despite only few models provide the post-processed results. Finally, GCM projections of TCC over the Mediterranean are presented. These projections predict a reduction of TCC during the 21st century in the Mediterranean. Specifically, for an extreme emission scenario (RCP8.5) the projected relative rate of TCC decrease is larger than 10 % by the end of the century.

Ghonima, MS, Heus T, Norris JR, Kleissl J.  2016.  Factors controlling stratocumulus cloud lifetime over coastal land. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. 73:2961-2983.   10.1175/jas-d-15-0228.1   AbstractWebsite

The breakup of stratocumulus clouds over coastal land areas is studied using a combination of large-eddy simulations (LESs) and mixed-layer models (MLMs) with a focus on mechanisms regulating the timing of the breakup. In contrast with stratocumulus over ocean, strong sensible heat flux over land prevents the cloud layer from decoupling during day. As the cloud thins during day, turbulence generated by surface flux becomes larger than turbulence generated by longwave cooling across the cloud layer. To capture this shift in turbulence generation in the MLM, an existing entrainment parameterization is extended. The MLM is able to mimic cloud evolution for a variety of Bowen ratios, but only after this modification of the entrainment parameterization. Cloud lifetime depends on a combination of the cloud-top entrainment flux, the Bowen ratio of the surface, and the strength of advection of cool ocean air by the sea breeze. For dry land surface conditions, the authors' MLM suggests a breakup time a few hours after sunrise. For relatively wet land surface conditions, the cloud layer briefly breaks into partly cloudy conditions during midday, and the stratocumulus cloud reforms in the evening.

Norris, JR, Allen RJ, Evan AT, Zelinka MD, O’Dell CW, Klein SA.  2016.  Evidence for climate change in the satellite cloud record. Nature. advance online publication: Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.   10.1038/nature18273   Abstract

Clouds substantially affect Earth’s energy budget by reflecting solar radiation back to space and by restricting emission of thermal radiation to space. They are perhaps the largest uncertainty in our understanding of climate change, owing to disagreement among climate models and observational datasets over what cloud changes have occurred during recent decades and will occur in response to global warming. This is because observational systems originally designed for monitoring weather have lacked sufficient stability to detect cloud changes reliably over decades unless they have been corrected to remove artefacts. Here we show that several independent, empirically corrected satellite records exhibit large-scale patterns of cloud change between the 1980s and the 2000s that are similar to those produced by model simulations of climate with recent historical external radiative forcing. Observed and simulated cloud change patterns are consistent with poleward retreat of mid-latitude storm tracks, expansion of subtropical dry zones, and increasing height of the highest cloud tops at all latitudes. The primary drivers of these cloud changes appear to be increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and a recovery from volcanic radiative cooling. These results indicate that the cloud changes most consistently predicted by global climate models are currently occurring in nature.

Myers, TA, Norris JR.  2016.  Reducing the uncertainty in subtropical cloud feedback. Geophysical Research Letters. 43:2144-2148.   10.1002/2015gl067416   AbstractWebsite

Large uncertainty remains on how subtropical clouds will respond to anthropogenic climate change and therefore whether they will act as a positive feedback that amplifies global warming or negative feedback that dampens global warming by altering Earth's energy budget. Here we reduce this uncertainty using an observationally constrained formulation of the response of subtropical clouds to greenhouse forcing. The observed interannual sensitivity of cloud solar reflection to varying meteorological conditions suggests that increasing sea surface temperature and atmospheric stability in the future climate will have largely canceling effects on subtropical cloudiness, overall leading to a weak positive shortwave cloud feedback (0.40.9Wm(-2)K(-1)). The uncertainty of this observationally based approximation of the cloud feedback is narrower than the intermodel spread of the feedback produced by climate models. Subtropical cloud changes will therefore complement positive cloud feedbacks identified by previous work, suggesting that future global cloud changes will amplify global warming.

Seo, H, Miller AJ, Norris JR.  2016.  Eddy-wind interaction in the California Current System: Dynamics and impacts. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 46:439-459.   10.1175/jpo-d-15-0086.1   AbstractWebsite

The summertime California Current System (CCS) is characterized by energetic mesoscale eddies, whose sea surface temperature (SST) and surface current can significantly modify the wind stress and Ekman pumping. Relative importance of the eddy-wind interactions via SST and surface current in the CCS is examined using a high-resolution (7 km) regional coupled model with a novel coupling approach to isolate the small-scale air-sea coupling by SST and surface current. Results show that when the eddy-induced surface current is allowed to modify the wind stress, the spatially averaged surface eddy kinetic energy (EKE) is reduced by 42%, and this is primarily due to enhanced surface eddy drag and reduced wind energy transfer. In contrast, the eddy-induced SST-wind coupling has no significant impact on the EKE. Furthermore, eddy-induced SST and surface current modify the Ekman pumping via their crosswind SST gradient and surface vorticity gradient, respectively. The resultant magnitudes of the Ekman pumping velocity are comparable, but the implied feedback effects on the eddy statistics are different. The surface current-induced Ekman pumping mainly attenuates the amplitude of cyclonic and anticyclonic eddies, acting to reduce the eddy activity, while the SST-induced Ekman pumping primarily affects the propagation. Time mean-rectified change in SST is determined by the altered offshore temperature advection by the mean and eddy currents, but the magnitude of the mean SST change is greater with the eddy-induced current effect. The demonstrated remarkably strong dynamical response in the CCS system to the eddy-induced current-wind coupling indicates that eddy-induced current should play an important role in the regional coupled ocean-atmosphere system.

Yuan, TL, Oreopoulos L, Zelinka M, Yu HB, Norris JR, Chin M, Platnick S, Meyer K.  2016.  Positive low cloud and dust feedbacks amplify tropical North Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Geophysical Research Letters. 43:1349-1356.   10.1002/2016gl067679   AbstractWebsite

The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) is characterized by a horseshoe pattern of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies and has a wide range of climatic impacts. While the tropical arm of AMO is responsible for many of these impacts, it is either too weak or completely absent in many climate model simulations. Here we show, using both observational and model evidence, that the radiative effect of positive low cloud and dust feedbacks is strong enough to generate the tropical arm of AMO, with the low cloud feedback more dominant. The feedbacks can be understood in a consistent dynamical framework: weakened tropical trade wind speed in response to a warm middle latitude SST anomaly reduces dust loading and low cloud fraction over the tropical Atlantic, which warms the tropical North Atlantic SST. Together they contribute to the appearance of the tropical arm of AMO. Most current climate models miss both the critical wind speed response and two positive feedbacks though realistic simulations of them may be essential for many climatic studies related to the AMO.

Seethala, C, Norris JR, Myers TA.  2015.  How has subtropical stratocumulus and associated meteorology changed since the 1980s? Journal of Climate. 28:8396-8410.   10.1175/jcli-d-15-0120.1   AbstractWebsite

The importance of low-level cloud feedbacks to climate sensitivity motivates an investigation of how low-level cloud amount and related meteorological conditions have changed in recent decades in subtropical stratocumulus regions. Using satellite cloud datasets corrected for inhomogeneities, it is found that during 1984-2009 low-level cloud amount substantially increased over the northeastern Pacific, southeastern Pacific, and southeastern Atlantic; decreased over the northeastern Atlantic; and weakly increased over the southeastern Indian Ocean subtropical stratocumulus regions. Examination of meteorological parameters from four reanalyses indicates that positive trends in low-level cloud amount are associated with cooler sea surface temperature, greater inversion strength, and enhanced cold-air advection. The converse holds for negative trends in low-level cloud amount. A multilinear regression model based on these three meteorological variables reproduces the sign and magnitude of observed cloud amount trends in all stratocumulus regions within the range of observational uncertainty. Changes in inversion strength have the largest independent effect on cloud trends, followed by changes in advection strength. Changes in sea surface temperature have the smallest independent effect on cloud trends. Differing signs of cloud trends and differing contributions from meteorological parameters suggest that observed changes in subtropical stratocumulus since the 1980s may be due to natural variability rather than a systematic response to climate change.

Ghonima, MS, Norris JR, Heus T, Kleissl J.  2015.  Reconciling and validating the cloud thickness and liquid water path tendencies proposed by R. Wood and J. J. van der Dussen et al. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. 72:2033-2040.   10.1175/jas-d-14-0287.1   AbstractWebsite

A detailed derivation of stratocumulus cloud thickness and liquid water path tendencies as a function of the well-mixed boundary layer mass, heat, and moisture budget equations is presented. The derivation corrects an error in the cloud thickness tendency equation derived by R. Wood to make it consistent with the liquid water path tendency equation derived by J. J. van der Dussen et al. The validity of the tendency equations is then tested against the output of large-eddy simulations of a typical stratocumulus-topped boundary layer case and is found to be in good agreement.

Norris, JR, Evan AT.  2015.  Empirical removal of artifacts from the ISCCP and PATMOS-x satellite cloud records. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology. 32:691-702.   10.1175/jtech-d-14-00058.1   AbstractWebsite

The International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) dataset and the Pathfinder Atmospheres-Extended (PATMOS-x) dataset are two commonly used multidecadal satellite cloud records. Because they are constructed from weather satellite measurements lacking long-term stability, ISCCP and PATMOS-x suffer from artifacts that inhibit their use for investigating cloud changes over recent decades. The present study describes and applies a post hoc method to empirically remove spurious variability from anomalies in total cloud fraction at each grid box. Spurious variability removed includes that associated with systematic changes in satellite zenith angle, drifts in satellite equatorial crossing time, and unrealistic large-scale spatially coherent anomalies associated with known and unidentified problems in instrument calibration and ancillary data. The basic method is to calculate for each grid box the least squares best-fit line between cloud anomalies and artifact factor anomalies, and to let the residuals from the best-fit line be the newly corrected data. After the correction procedure, the patterns of regional trends in ISCCP and PATMOS-x total cloud fraction appear much more natural. The corrected data cannot be used for studies of globally averaged cloud change, however, because the methods employed remove any real cloud variability occurring on global scales together with spurious variability. An examination of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) total cloud fraction data indicates that removing global-scale variability has little impact on regional patterns of cloud change. Corrected ISCCP and PATMOS-x data are available from the Research Data Archive at NCAR.

Myers, TA, Norris JR.  2015.  On the relationships between subtropical clouds and meteorology in observations and CMIP3 and CMIP5 models. Journal of Climate. 28:2945-2967.   10.1175/jcli-d-14-00475.1   AbstractWebsite

Climate models' simulation of clouds over the eastern subtropical oceans contributes to large uncertainties in projected cloud feedback to global warming. Here, interannual relationships of cloud radiative effect and cloud fraction to meteorological variables are examined in observations and in models participating in phases 3 and 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3 and CMIP5, respectively). In observations, cooler sea surface temperature, a stronger estimated temperature inversion, and colder horizontal surface temperature advection are each associated with larger low-level cloud fraction and increased reflected shortwave radiation. A moister free troposphere and weaker subsidence are each associated with larger mid- and high-level cloud fraction and offsetting components of shortwave and longwave cloud radiative effect. It is found that a larger percentage of CMIP5 than CMIP3 models simulate the wrong sign or magnitude of the relationship of shortwave cloud radiative effect to sea surface temperature and estimated inversion strength. Furthermore, most models fail to produce the sign of the relationship between shortwave cloud radiative effect and temperature advection. These deficiencies are mostly, but not exclusively, attributable to errors in the relationship between low-level cloud fraction and meteorology. Poor model performance also arises due to errors in the response of mid-and high-level cloud fraction to variations in meteorology. Models exhibiting relationships closest to observations tend to project less solar reflection by clouds in the late twenty-first century and have higher climate sensitivities than poorer-performing models. Nevertheless, the intermodel spread of climate sensitivity is large even among these realistic models.

Eisenman, I, Meier WN, Norris JR.  2014.  A spurious jump in the satellite record: has Antarctic sea ice expansion been overestimated? The Cryosphere. 8:1289-1296.: Copernicus Publications   10.5194/tc-8-1289-2014   AbstractWebsite

Recent estimates indicate that the Antarctic sea ice cover is expanding at a statistically significant rate with a magnitude one-third as large as the rapid rate of sea ice retreat in the Arctic. However, during the mid-2000s, with several fewer years in the observational record, the trend in Antarctic sea ice extent was reported to be considerably smaller and statistically indistinguishable from zero. Here, we show that much of the increase in the reported trend occurred due to the previously undocumented effect of a change in the way the satellite sea ice observations are processed for the widely used Bootstrap algorithm data set, rather than a physical increase in the rate of ice advance. Specifically, we find that a change in the intercalibration across a 1991 sensor transition when the data set was reprocessed in 2007 caused a substantial change in the long-term trend. Although our analysis does not definitively identify whether this change introduced an error or removed one, the resulting difference in the trends suggests that a substantial error exists in either the current data set or the version that was used prior to the mid-2000s, and numerous studies that have relied on these observations should be reexamined to determine the sensitivity of their results to this change in the data set. Furthermore, a number of recent studies have investigated physical mechanisms for the observed expansion of the Antarctic sea ice cover. The results of this analysis raise the possibility that much of this expansion may be a spurious artifact of an error in the processing of the satellite observations.

Liu, JW, Xie SP, Norris JR, Zhang SP.  2014.  Low-level cloud response to the Gulf Stream front in winter using CALIPSO. Journal of Climate. 27:4421-4432.   10.1175/jcli-d-13-00469.1   AbstractWebsite

A sharp sea surface temperature front develops between the warm water of the Gulf Stream and cold continental shelf water in boreal winter. This front has a substantial impact on the marine boundary layer. The present study analyzes and synthesizes satellite observations and reanalysis data to examine how the sea surface temperature front influences the three-dimensional structure of low-level clouds. The Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) satellite captures a sharp low-level cloud transition across the Gulf Stream front, a structure frequently observed under the northerly condition. Low-level cloud top (<4 km) increases by about 500 m from the cold to the warm flank of the front. The sea surface temperature front induces a secondary low-level circulation through sea level pressure adjustment with ascending motion over the warm water and descending motion over cold water. The secondary circulation further contributes to the cross-frontal transition of low-level clouds. Composite analysis shows that surface meridional advection over the front plays an important role in the development of the marine atmospheric boundary layer and low-level clouds. Under cold northerly advection over the Gulf Stream front, strong near-surface instability leads to a well-mixed boundary layer over the Gulf Stream, causing southward deepening of low-level clouds across the sea surface temperature front. Moreover, the front affects the freezing level by transferring heat to the atmosphere and therefore influences the cross-frontal variation of the cloud phase.

Allen, RJ, Norris JR, Kovilakam M.  2014.  Influence of anthropogenic aerosols and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation on tropical belt width. Nature Geoscience. 7:270-274.   10.1038/ngeo2091   AbstractWebsite

The tropical belt has widened by several degrees latitude since 1979, as evidenced by shifts in atmospheric circulation and climate zones(1-5). Global climate models also simulate tropical belt widening, but less so than observed (6, 7). Reasons for this discrepancy and the mechanisms driving the expansion are uncertain. Here we analyse multidecadal variability in tropical belt width since 1950 using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 climate model runs and find that simulated rates of tropical expansion over the past 30 yearsparticularly in the Northern Hemisphereare in better agreement with observations than previous models. We find that models driven by observed sea surface temperatures over this interval yield the largest rate of tropical expansion. We link the tropical expansion in the Northern Hemisphere to the leading pattern of sea surface temperature variability in the North Pacific, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. We also find, both from models and observations, that the tropical belt contracted in the Northern Hemisphere from 1950 to 1979, coincident with the reversal of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation trend. In both time periods, anthropogenic aerosols act to modify the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and therefore contribute to the width of the tropical belt. We conclude that tropical expansion and contraction are influenced by multidecadal sea surface temperature variability associated with both the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and anthropogenic aerosols.

Bellomo, K, Clement AC, Norris JR, Soden BJ.  2014.  Observational and model estimates of cloud amount feedback over the Indian and Pacific oceans. Journal of Climate. 27:925-940.   10.1175/jcli-d-13-00165.1   AbstractWebsite

Constraining intermodel spread in cloud feedback with observations is problematic because available cloud datasets are affected by spurious behavior in long-term variability. This problem is addressed by examining cloud amount in three independent ship-based [Extended Edited Cloud Reports Archive (EECRA)] and satellite-based [International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) and Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer Pathfinder Atmosphere-Extended (PATMOS-X)] observational datasets, and models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). The three observational datasets show consistent cloud variability in the overlapping years of coverage (1984-2007). The long-term cloud amount change from 1954 to 2005 in ship-based observations shares many of the same features with the multimodel mean cloud amount change of 42 CMIP5 historical simulations, although the magnitude of the multimodel mean is smaller. The radiative impact of cloud changes is estimated by computing an observationally derived estimate of cloud amount feedback. The observational estimates of cloud amount feedback are statistically significant over four regions: the northeast Pacific subtropical stratocumulus region and equatorial western Pacific, where cloud amount feedback is found to be positive, and the southern central Pacific and western Indian Ocean, where cloud amount feedback is found to be negative. Multimodel mean cloud amount feedback is consistent in sign but smaller in magnitude than in observations over these four regions because models simulate weaker cloud changes. Individual models, however, can simulate cloud amount feedback of the same magnitude if not larger than observed. Focusing on the regions where models and observations agree can lead to improved understanding of the mechanisms of cloud amount changes and associated radiative impact.

Allen, RJ, Norris JR, Wild M.  2013.  Evaluation of multidecadal variability in CMIP5 surface solar radiation and inferred underestimation of aerosol direct effects over Europe, China, Japan, and India. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 118:6311-6336.   10.1002/jgrd.50426   AbstractWebsite

Observations from the Global Energy Balance Archive indicate regional decreases in all sky surface solar radiation from approximate to 1950s to 1980s, followed by an increase during the 1990s. These periods are popularly called dimming and brightening, respectively. Removal of the radiative effects of cloud cover variability from all sky surface solar radiation results in a quantity called clear sky proxy radiation, in which multidecadal trends can be seen more distinctly, suggesting aerosol radiative forcing as a likely cause. Prior work has shown climate models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 3 (CMIP3) generally underestimate the magnitude of these trends, particularly over China and India. Here we perform a similar analysis with 173 simulations from 42 climate models participating in the new CMIP5. Results show negligible improvement over CMIP3, as CMIP5 dimming trends over four regionsEurope, China, India, and Japanare all underestimated. This bias is largest for both India and China, where the multimodel mean yields a decrease in clear sky proxy radiation of -1.3 +/- 0.3 and -1.2 +/- 0.2Wm(-2)decade(-1), respectively, compared to observed decreases of -6.5 +/- 0.9 and -8.2 +/- 1.3Wm(-2)decade(-1). Similar underestimation of the observed dimming over Japan exists, with the CMIP5 mean dimming approximate to 20% as large as observed. Moreover, not a single simulation reproduces the magnitude of the observed dimming trend for these three regions. Relative to dimming, CMIP5 models better simulate the observed brightening, but significant underestimation exists for both China and Japan. Overall, no individual model performs particularly well for all four regions. Model biases do not appear to be related to the use of prescribed versus prognostic aerosols or to aerosol indirect effects. However, models exhibit significant correlations between clear sky proxy radiation and several aerosol-related fields, most notably aerosol optical depth (AOD) and absorption AOD. This suggests model underestimation of the observed trends is related to underestimation of aerosol direct radiative forcing and/or deficient aerosol emission inventories.

Myers, TA, Norris JR.  2013.  Observational evidence that enhanced subsidence reduces subtropical marine boundary layer cloudiness. Journal of Climate. 26:7507-7524.   10.1175/jcli-d-12-00736.1   AbstractWebsite

Conventional wisdom suggests that subsidence favors the presence of marine stratus and stratocumulus because regions of enhanced boundary layer cloudiness are observed to climatologically co-occur with regions of enhanced subsidence. Here it is argued that the climatological positive correlation between subsidence and cloudiness is not the result of a direct physical mechanism connecting the two. Instead, it arises because enhanced subsidence is typically associated with stronger temperature inversions capping the marine boundary layer, and stronger temperature inversions favor greater cloudiness. Through statistical analysis of satellite cloud data and meteorological reanalyses for the subsidence regime over tropical (30 degrees S-30 degrees N) oceans, it is shown that enhanced subsidence promotes reduced cloudiness for the same value of inversion strength and that a stronger inversion favors greater cloudiness for the same value of subsidence. Using a simple conceptual model, it is argued that enhanced subsidence leads to reduced cloud thickness, liquid water path, and cloud fraction by pushing down the top of the marine boundary layer. Moreover, a stronger inversion reduces entrainment drying and warming, thus leading to a more humid boundary layer and greater cloud thickness, liquid water path, and cloud fraction. These two mechanisms typically oppose each other for geographical and seasonal cloud variability because enhanced subsidence is usually associated with stronger inversions. If global warming results in stronger inversions but weaker subsidence, the two mechanisms could both favor increased subtropical low-level cloudiness.

Evan, AT, Norris JR.  2012.  On global changes in effective cloud height. Geophysical Research Letters. 39   10.1029/2012gl053171   AbstractWebsite

Measurements by the Multiangle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument exhibit a decreasing trend in global mean effective cloud top height (2000-2011). Here we show that this trend is likely related to an artifact in the data present during the early years of the MISR mission that caused a systematic reduction in the number of retrievals of clouds at lower elevations relative to clouds at higher elevations. After the application of a post-hoc method for removing the bias associated with missing retrievals the MISR effective cloud height anomalies exhibit a positive trend over time. Citation: Evan, A. T., and J. R. Norris (2012), On global changes in effective cloud height, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L19710, doi:10.1029/2012GL053171.

Allen, RJ, Sherwood SC, Norris JR, Zender CS.  2012.  Recent Northern Hemisphere tropical expansion primarily driven by black carbon and tropospheric ozone. Nature. 485:350-U93.   10.1038/nature11097   AbstractWebsite

Observational analyses have shown the width of the tropical belt increasing in recent decades as the world has warmed(1). This expansion is important because it is associated with shifts in large-scale atmospheric circulation(2-4) and major climate zones(5,6). Although recent studies have attributed tropical expansion in the Southern Hemisphere to ozone depletion(7-10), the drivers of Northern Hemisphere expansion are not well known and the expansion has not so far been reproduced by climate models(11). Here we use a climate model with detailed aerosol physics to show that increases in heterogeneous warming agents-including black carbon aerosols and tropospheric ozone-are noticeably better than greenhouse gases at driving expansion, and can account for the observed summertime maximum in tropical expansion. Mechanistically, atmospheric heating from black carbon and tropospheric ozone has occurred at the mid-latitudes, generating a poleward shift of the tropospheric jet(12), thereby relocating the main division between tropical and temperate air masses. Although we still underestimate tropical expansion, the true aerosol forcing is poorly known and could also be underestimated. Thus, although the insensitivity of models needs further investigation, black carbon and tropospheric ozone, both of which are strongly influenced by human activities, are the most likely causes of observed Northern Hemisphere tropical expansion.

Loeb, NG, Kato S, Su W, Wong T, Rose FG, Doelling DR, Norris JR, Huang X.  2012.  Advances in Understanding Top-of-Atmosphere Radiation Variability from Satellite Observations. Surveys in Geophysics. 33:359-385.: Springer Netherlands   10.1007/s10712-012-9175-1   AbstractWebsite

This paper highlights how the emerging record of satellite observations from the Earth Observation System (EOS) and A-Train constellation are advancing our ability to more completely document and understand the underlying processes associated with variations in the Earth’s top-of-atmosphere (TOA) radiation budget. Large-scale TOA radiation changes during the past decade are observed to be within 0.5 Wm−2 per decade based upon comparisons between Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instruments aboard Terra and Aqua and other instruments. Tropical variations in emitted outgoing longwave (LW) radiation are found to closely track changes in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). During positive ENSO phase (El Niño), outgoing LW radiation increases, and decreases during the negative ENSO phase (La Niña). The coldest year during the last decade occurred in 2008, during which strong La Nina conditions persisted throughout most of the year. Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) observations show that the lower temperatures extended throughout much of the troposphere for several months, resulting in a reduction in outgoing LW radiation and an increase in net incoming radiation. At the global scale, outgoing LW flux anomalies are partially compensated for by decreases in midlatitude cloud fraction and cloud height, as observed by Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer and Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer, respectively. CERES data show that clouds have a net radiative warming influence during La Niña conditions and a net cooling influence during El Niño, but the magnitude of the anomalies varies greatly from one ENSO event to another. Regional cloud-radiation variations among several Terra and A-Train instruments show consistent patterns and exhibit marked fluctuations at monthly timescales in response to tropical atmosphere-ocean dynamical processes associated with ENSO and Madden–Julian Oscillation.

Allen, RJ, Sherwood SC, Norris JR, Zender CS.  2012.  The equilibrium response to idealized thermal forcings in a comprehensive GCM: implications for recent tropical expansion. Atmos. Chem. Phys.. 12:4795-4816.: Copernicus Publications   10.5194/acp-12-4795-2012   AbstractWebsite
Dwyer, JG, Norris JR, Ruckstuhl C.  2010.  Do climate models reproduce observed solar dimming and brightening over China and Japan? Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 115   10.1029/2009jd012945   AbstractWebsite

Previous research indicates that clear-sky downward solar radiation measured at the surface over China significantly decreased by about -8.6 W m(-2) per decade during 1961-1989 and insignificantly increased during 1990-1999. Furthermore, solar radiation over Japan remained relatively constant during 1971-1989 and significantly increased by +5.3 W m(-2) per decade during 1990-1999. The present study compares observed trends with those from twentieth century simulations by 14 global climate models in the CMIP3/IPCC-AR4. Since radiative forcing by aerosols is the primary contributor to long-term variations in surface solar radiation, the simulations are expected to resemble the observed trends if the input aerosol histories are realistic. To minimize the confounding impact of different cloud realizations in the observations and models, the radiative effects of cloud cover anomalies are removed from the surface solar radiation anomalies via linear regression. Although all of the models exhibit significant dimming trends over China before 1990, the largest model trend is -3.4 W m(-2) per decade, less than half the magnitude and significantly different from the observed trend. Models including black carbon aerosol produce stronger decreasing trends than those that do not. The models also fail to reproduce the trend during 1990-1999 over Japan, and the largest model trend is + 2.3 W m(-2) per decade, only about half of the observed trend. These results suggest that global climate models uniformly underestimate the increase in aerosol radiative forcing over China prior to 1990 and uniformly underestimate the decrease in aerosol radiative forcing over Japan after 1990.

Mauger, GS, Norris JR.  2010.  Assessing the Impact of Meteorological History on Subtropical Cloud Fraction. Journal of Climate. 23:2926-2940.   10.1175/2010jcli3272.1   AbstractWebsite

This study presents findings from the application of a new Lagrangian method used to evaluate the meteorological sensitivities of subtropical clouds in the northeast Atlantic. Parcel back trajectories are used to account for the influence of previous meteorological conditions on cloud properties, whereas forward trajectories highlight the continued evolution of cloud state. Satellite retrievals from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES), Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT), and Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) provide measurements of cloud properties as well as atmospheric state. These are complemented by meteorological fields from the ECMWF operational analysis model. Observations are composited by cloud fraction, and mean trajectories are used to evaluate differences between each composite. Systematic differences in meteorological conditions are found to extend through the full 144-h trajectories, confirming the need to account for cloud history in assessing impacts on cloud properties. Most striking among these is the observation that strong synoptic-scale divergence is associated with reduced cloud fraction 0-12 h later. Consistent with prior work, the authors find that cloud cover variations correlate best with variations in lower-tropospheric stability (LTS) and SST that are 36 h upwind. In addition, the authors find that free-tropospheric humidity, along-trajectory SST gradient, and surface fluxes all correlate best at lags ranging from 0 to 12 h. Overall, cloud cover appears to be most strongly impacted by variations in surface divergence over short time scales (, 12 h) and by factors influencing boundary layer stratification over longer time scales (12-48 h). Notably, in the early part of the trajectories several of the above associations are reversed. In particular, when trajectories computed for small cloud fraction scenes are traced back 72 h, they are found to originate in conditions of weaker surface divergence and stronger surface fluxes relative to those computed for large cloud fraction scenes. Coupled with a drier boundary layer and warmer SSTs, this suggests that a decoupling of the boundary layer precedes cloud dissipation. The authors develop an approximation for the stratification of the boundary layer and find further evidence that stratification plays a role in differentiating between developing and dissipating clouds.

Clement, AC, Burgman R, Norris JR.  2010.  Response to Comment on "Observational and Model Evidence for Positive Low-Level Cloud Feedback". Science. 329   10.1126/science.1187667   AbstractWebsite

Broccoli and Klein argue for additional diagnostics to better assess the simulation of cloud feedbacks in climate models. We agree, and here provide additional analysis of two climate models that reveals where model deficiencies in cloud simulation in the Northeast Pacific may occur. Cloud diagnostics from the forthcoming Climate Model Intercomparison Project 5 should make such additional analyses possible for a large number of climate models.