Cloud Optical-Thickness Feedbacks in the Co2 Climate Problem

Somerville, RCJ, Remer LA.  1984.  Cloud Optical-Thickness Feedbacks in the Co2 Climate Problem. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 89:9668-9672.


A radiative-convective equilibrium model is developed and applied to study cloud optical thickness feedbacks in the CO2 climate problem. The basic hypothesis is that in the warmer and moister CO2-rich atmosphere, cloud liquid water content will generally be larger too. For clouds other than thin cirrus the result is to increase the albedo more than to increase the greenhouse effect. Thus the sign of the feedback is negative: cloud optical properties act as a thermostat and alter in such a way as to reduce the surface and tropospheric warming caused by the addition of CO2. This negative feedback can be substantial. When observational estimates of the temperature dependence of cloud liquid water content are employed in the model, the surface temperature change caused by doubling CO2 is reduced by about one half. This result is obtained for global and annual average conditions, no change in cloud amount or altitude, and constant relative humidity. These idealizations, together with other simplifications typical of one-dimensional radiative-convective climate models, render the result tentative. Further study of cloud optical property feedbacks is warranted, however, because the climate is apparently so sensitive to them.