skip to main content
DOE PAGES title logo U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Scientific and Technical Information

Title: Evidence for climate change in the satellite cloud record

Abstract

Clouds substantially affect Earth’s energy budget by reflecting solar radiation back to space and by restricting emission of thermal radiation to space 1. 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 2, 3. 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 4, 5. 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. Here, these results indicate that the cloud changes most consistently predicted by global climate modelsmore » are currently occurring in nature.« less

Authors:
 [1];  [2];  [1];  [3];  [4];  [3]
  1. Univ. of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA (United States)
  2. Univ. of California, Riverside, CA (United States)
  3. Lawrence Livermore National Lab. (LLNL), Livermore, CA (United States)
  4. Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins, CO (United States)
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Lawrence Livermore National Lab. (LLNL), Livermore, CA (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
1289364
Report Number(s):
LLNL-JRNL-688338
Journal ID: ISSN 0028-0836
Grant/Contract Number:  
AC52-07NA27344
Resource Type:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Nature (London)
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Name: Nature (London); Journal Volume: 536; Journal Issue: 7614; Journal ID: ISSN 0028-0836
Publisher:
Nature Publishing Group
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
58 GEOSCIENCES

Citation Formats

Norris, Joel R., Allen, Robert J., Evan, Amato T., Zelinka, Mark D., O'Dell, Christopher W., and Klein, Stephen A. Evidence for climate change in the satellite cloud record. United States: N. p., 2016. Web. doi:10.1038/nature18273.
Norris, Joel R., Allen, Robert J., Evan, Amato T., Zelinka, Mark D., O'Dell, Christopher W., & Klein, Stephen A. Evidence for climate change in the satellite cloud record. United States. doi:10.1038/nature18273.
Norris, Joel R., Allen, Robert J., Evan, Amato T., Zelinka, Mark D., O'Dell, Christopher W., and Klein, Stephen A. Mon . "Evidence for climate change in the satellite cloud record". United States. doi:10.1038/nature18273. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1289364.
@article{osti_1289364,
title = {Evidence for climate change in the satellite cloud record},
author = {Norris, Joel R. and Allen, Robert J. and Evan, Amato T. and Zelinka, Mark D. and O'Dell, Christopher W. and Klein, Stephen A.},
abstractNote = {Clouds substantially affect Earth’s energy budget by reflecting solar radiation back to space and by restricting emission of thermal radiation to space1. 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 warming2, 3. 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 artefacts4, 5. 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. Here, these results indicate that the cloud changes most consistently predicted by global climate models are currently occurring in nature.},
doi = {10.1038/nature18273},
journal = {Nature (London)},
number = 7614,
volume = 536,
place = {United States},
year = {2016},
month = {7}
}

Journal Article:
Free Publicly Available Full Text
Publisher's Version of Record

Citation Metrics:
Cited by: 40 works
Citation information provided by
Web of Science

Save / Share:

Works referenced in this record:

Empirical Removal of Artifacts from the ISCCP and PATMOS-x Satellite Cloud Records
journal, April 2015


Cloud-Radiative Forcing and Climate: Results from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment
journal, January 1989


Intercalibrated Passive Microwave Rain Products from the Unified Microwave Ocean Retrieval Algorithm (UMORA)
journal, March 2008

  • Hilburn, K. A.; Wentz, F. J.
  • Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, Vol. 47, Issue 3
  • DOI: 10.1175/2007JAMC1635.1

Advances in Understanding Clouds from ISCCP
journal, November 1999


External Influences on Modeled and Observed Cloud Trends
journal, June 2015


An Overview of CMIP5 and the Experiment Design
journal, April 2012

  • Taylor, Karl E.; Stouffer, Ronald J.; Meehl, Gerald A.
  • Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 93, Issue 4
  • DOI: 10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00094.1

An Assessment of the Primary Sources of Spread of Global Warming Estimates from Coupled Atmosphere–Ocean Models
journal, October 2008


Toward Optimal Closure of the Earth's Top-of-Atmosphere Radiation Budget
journal, February 2009

  • Loeb, Norman G.; Wielicki, Bruce A.; Doelling, David R.
  • Journal of Climate, Vol. 22, Issue 3
  • DOI: 10.1175/2008JCLI2637.1

The Effective Number of Spatial Degrees of Freedom of a Time-Varying Field
journal, July 1999


The ozone hole indirect effect: Cloud-radiative anomalies accompanying the poleward shift of the eddy-driven jet in the Southern Hemisphere: OZONE HOLE INDIRECT EFFECT
journal, July 2013

  • Grise, Kevin M.; Polvani, Lorenzo M.; Tselioudis, George
  • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 40, Issue 14
  • DOI: 10.1002/grl.50675

ENSO-like Interdecadal Variability: 1900–93
journal, May 1997


Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: The Main Driver of Twentieth-Century Atmospheric Circulation Changes in the Southern Hemisphere
journal, February 2011

  • Polvani, Lorenzo M.; Waugh, Darryn W.; Correa, Gustavo J. P.
  • Journal of Climate, Vol. 24, Issue 3
  • DOI: 10.1175/2010JCLI3772.1

Cloud Feedback Processes in a General Circulation Model
journal, April 1988


Where and when will we observe cloud changes due to climate warming?
journal, December 2014

  • Chepfer, H.; Noel, V.; Winker, D.
  • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 41, Issue 23
  • DOI: 10.1002/2014GL061792

The Pathfinder Atmospheres–Extended AVHRR Climate Dataset
journal, June 2014

  • Heidinger, Andrew K.; Foster, Michael J.; Walther, Andi
  • Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 95, Issue 6
  • DOI: 10.1175/BAMS-D-12-00246.1

Response of the large-scale structure of the atmosphere to global warming: Response of Atmospheric Structure to Global Warming
journal, November 2014

  • Vallis, Geoffrey K.; Zurita-Gotor, Pablo; Cairns, Cameron
  • Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, Vol. 141, Issue 690
  • DOI: 10.1002/qj.2456

Why is longwave cloud feedback positive?
journal, January 2010

  • Zelinka, Mark D.; Hartmann, Dennis L.
  • Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 115, Issue D16
  • DOI: 10.1029/2010JD013817

Cloud Liquid Water Path from Satellite-Based Passive Microwave Observations: A New Climatology over the Global Oceans
journal, April 2008

  • O’Dell, Christopher W.; Wentz, Frank J.; Bennartz, Ralf
  • Journal of Climate, Vol. 21, Issue 8
  • DOI: 10.1175/2007JCLI1958.1

Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES): An Earth Observing System Experiment
journal, May 1996


Nonlinear Axially Symmetric Circulations in a Nearly Inviscid Atmosphere
journal, March 1980


COSP: Satellite simulation software for model assessment
journal, August 2011

  • Bodas-Salcedo, A.; Webb, M. J.; Bony, S.
  • Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 92, Issue 8
  • DOI: 10.1175/2011BAMS2856.1

Changes in extratropical storm track cloudiness 1983–2008: observational support for a poleward shift
journal, April 2011

  • Bender, Frida A-M.; Ramanathan, V.; Tselioudis, George
  • Climate Dynamics, Vol. 38, Issue 9-10
  • DOI: 10.1007/s00382-011-1065-6

Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate
journal, December 2007

  • Seidel, Dian J.; Fu, Qiang; Randel, William J.
  • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 1, Issue 1
  • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo.2007.38

An important constraint on tropical cloud - climate feedback: TROPICAL CLOUD-CLIMATE FEEDBACK
journal, October 2002

  • Hartmann, Dennis L.; Larson, Kristin
  • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 29, Issue 20
  • DOI: 10.1029/2002GL015835

    Works referencing / citing this record:

    Changes in extratropical storm track cloudiness 1983–2008: observational support for a poleward shift
    journal, April 2011

    • Bender, Frida A-M.; Ramanathan, V.; Tselioudis, George
    • Climate Dynamics, Vol. 38, Issue 9-10
    • DOI: 10.1007/s00382-011-1065-6

    Host species, and not environment, predicts variation in blood parasite prevalence, distribution, and diversity along a humidity gradient in northern South America
    journal, March 2018

    • Pulgarín-R, Paulo C.; Gómez, Juan P.; Robinson, Scott
    • Ecology and Evolution, Vol. 8, Issue 8
    • DOI: 10.1002/ece3.3785

    Response of the large-scale structure of the atmosphere to global warming: Response of Atmospheric Structure to Global Warming
    journal, November 2014

    • Vallis, Geoffrey K.; Zurita-Gotor, Pablo; Cairns, Cameron
    • Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, Vol. 141, Issue 690
    • DOI: 10.1002/qj.2456

    The ozone hole indirect effect: Cloud-radiative anomalies accompanying the poleward shift of the eddy-driven jet in the Southern Hemisphere: OZONE HOLE INDIRECT EFFECT
    journal, July 2013

    • Grise, Kevin M.; Polvani, Lorenzo M.; Tselioudis, George
    • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 40, Issue 14
    • DOI: 10.1002/grl.50675

    Historical observations of cloudiness (1882–2012) over a large urban area of the eastern Mediterranean (Athens)
    journal, August 2018

    • Founda, Dimitra; Nastos, P. T.; Pierros, F.
    • Theoretical and Applied Climatology, Vol. 137, Issue 1-2
    • DOI: 10.1007/s00704-018-2596-0

    Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) Archival and April 1985 Results
    journal, October 1989


    Solar radiative forcing at selected locations and evidence for global lower tropospheric cooling following the eruptions of El Chichón and Pinatubo
    journal, December 1992

    • Dutton, Ellsworth G.; Christy, John R.
    • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 19, Issue 23
    • DOI: 10.1029/92gl02495

    Stratospheric temperature increases due to Pinatubo aerosols
    journal, January 1992

    • Labitzke, K.; McCormick, M. P.
    • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 19, Issue 2
    • DOI: 10.1029/91gl02940

    Processes Responsible for Cloud Feedback
    journal, October 2016


    Cloud-Radiative Forcing and Climate: Results from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment
    journal, January 1989


    Beyond equilibrium climate sensitivity
    journal, September 2017

    • Knutti, Reto; Rugenstein, Maria A. A.; Hegerl, Gabriele C.
    • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 10, Issue 10
    • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo3017

    Arguments against a physical long-term trend in global ISCCP cloud amounts
    journal, January 2007

    • Evan, Amato T.; Heidinger, Andrew K.; Vimont, Daniel J.
    • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 34, Issue 4
    • DOI: 10.1029/2006gl028083

    Underestimation of deep convective cloud tops by thermal imagery: CLOUD TOP HEIGHTS
    journal, June 2004

    • Sherwood, Steven C.; Chae, Jung-Hyo; Minnis, Patrick
    • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 31, Issue 11
    • DOI: 10.1029/2004gl019699

    Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate
    journal, December 2007

    • Seidel, Dian J.; Fu, Qiang; Randel, William J.
    • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 1, Issue 1
    • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo.2007.38