The Relevance of the Microphysical and Radiative Properties of Cirrus Clouds to Climate and Climatic Feedback

Stephens, GL, Tsay SC, Stackhouse PW, Flatau PJ.  1990.  The Relevance of the Microphysical and Radiative Properties of Cirrus Clouds to Climate and Climatic Feedback. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. 47:1742-1753.

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This paper examines the effects of the relationship between cirrus cloud ice water content and cloud temperature on climate change. A simple mechanistic climate model is used to study the feedback between ice water content and temperature. The central question studied in this paper concerns the extent to which both the radiative and microphysical properties of cirrus cloud influence such a feedback. To address this question, a parameterization of the albedo and emissivity of clouds is introduced. Observations that relate the ice water content to cloud temperature are incorporated in the parameterization to introduce a temperature dependence to both albedo and emittance. The cloud properties relevant to the cloud feedback are expressed as functions of particles size re, asymmetry parameter g and cloud temperature and analyses of aircraft measurements, lidar and ground based radiometer data are used to select re and g. It was shown that scattering calculations assuming spherical particles with a distribution described by re = 16 μm reasonably matched the lidar and radiometer data. However, comparison of cloud radiation properties measured from aircraft to those parameterized in this study required values of g significantly smaller than those derived for spheres but consistent with our understanding of nonspherical particle scattering.The climate simulations revealed that the influence of cirrus cloud on climate was strongly affected by the choice of re and g: parameters that are both poorly known for cirrus. It was further shown that the effect of ice water feedback on a CO2 warming simulation could be either positive or negative depending on the value of re assumed. Based on these results, it was concluded that prediction of cirrus cloud feedback on climate is both premature and limited by our lack of understanding of the relationship between size and shape of ice crystals and the gross radiative properties of cirrus.