Cloud shapes and formations impact global warming – but we still don’t understand them

Posted: November 10, 2020 by oldbrew in atmosphere, climate, Clouds, Critique, modelling, Uncertainty
Tags: ,

Cumulus clouds over the Atlantic Ocean [image credit: Tiago Fioreze @ Wikipedia]

Clouds again: “For 50 years, people have been making climate projections, but all of them have had a false representation of clouds”, says a top atmospheric science professor who served as a lead-author of Chapter 7, “Cloud and Aerosols” for the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Despite this glaring deficiency in climate models, governments insist on framing energy policies on the assertion that human ’emissions’ will be the main cause of any observed or future global climate change.

– – –
Above the Atlantic Ocean, puffy white clouds scud across the sky buffeted by invisible trade winds.

They are not ‘particularly big, impressive or extended,” says Dr. Sandrine Bony, a climatologist and research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research. “But they are the most ubiquitous clouds on Earth.”

Clouds are one of the biggest question marks in global climate models, and a wild card in predicting what will happen to the climate as temperatures rise, says

They play a vital role in how much of the sun’s radiation makes it into and gets trapped in our atmosphere.

The more clouds there are, the more radiation bounces off their tops and is reflected back into space; it also means that if there are more clouds, the radiation reflected by Earth gets trapped.

Historically researchers have struggled to understand cloud properties, how they currently behave, and how they will react to the increased temperatures caused by climate change.

It comes down to an issue of scale, explains Dr. Bony. From the microscopic interactions of atoms to atmospheric currents that act over thousands of kilometres, many forces affect how clouds form, their composition and behaviour.

The clouds resembling cotton wool in the Atlantic, which Dr. Bony and her colleagues study, are a good example. “A little change in their properties has a huge impact on the global radiative balance (the balance between how much of the sun’s energy makes it into Earth’s atmosphere and how much escapes),” she said. Because these fair-weather clouds (known as cumuliform clouds) are so common, a small change carries ‘huge’ statistical weight in the global climate.

“It’s the biggest question—there is no bigger question,” said Professor Bjorn Stevens, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany and Dr. Bony’s co-leader on the EUREC4A project which set out to investigate these fluffy white clouds.

“For 50 years, people have been making climate projections, but all of them have had a false representation of clouds.”

These projections, he says, have suffered from an inadequate understanding of the factors determining how cloudy climate will be and have not been properly represented in the models.

Field experiment

The EUREC4A project, which began as a modest field experiment to measure air motion and cloudiness, attracted numerous partners and expanded in scope. In the end, it encompassed five crewed and six remotely piloted research aircraft, four ocean-going research vessels, a flotilla of drifters and gliders, an array of satellites, and measurements from the Barbados Cloud Observatory.

“The experiment grew in complexity and scope to address a number of other fascinating questions,” said Prof. Stevens, such as how much and how easily clouds rain, and how eddies in the ocean and the clouds above affect each other.

The team is currently writing up their results, and hopes that their measurements will provide the answers to these questions.

“We will be setting a ground truth for a new set of climate models,” he said.

Full article here.

  1. oldbrew says:

    Last line of the full article:
    And in order to prepare for a warming climate, and predict how the world’s insulating cloud layer will change, first we need to understand how it operates now.

    Remember that when reading ‘climate models predict…’

  2. Gamecock says:

    This isn’t news. Anyone not corrupted by the climate/science/politics scheme has always known this.

    Note also that a big, bigger, biggest computer can’t solve this problem.

  3. Johna says:

    Its all guesses based on fiction and wild assumptions and driven by people who no nothing except how to keep this madness mayhem and stone age politics going to keep their cushy jobs. One so called profesor I recently spoke who advises a said politician, said “he believes CO2 is the cause because he’s seen the recent BAS graphs which shows the ice co2 hockey stick. Asked if he disputes or agrees all the ice age cores show the complete opposite ie co2 lags temp. He replied “I’ve never studded this”.

  4. JB says:

    “hopes that their measurements will provide the answers”

    Well now, data is just that. It doesn’t provide answers. It takes a perspicacious mind to see in the data patterns that reflect a relationship. The task then is to find a verbal expression that accurately and repeatedly describes it. There is no understanding in models, which are little more than Tinker Toys and Legos. They represent largely what is present in the mind of the constructor, not what Nature is doing.

  5. oldbrew says:

    NOAA claims ‘Climate models are based on well-documented physical processes to simulate the transfer of energy and materials through the climate system.’

    Climate Models, and How They Work
    – – –
    But from the report above: “For 50 years, people have been making climate projections, but all of them have had a false representation of clouds.”

    So clouds can’t be ‘well-documented physical processes’.

  6. cognog2 says:

    Clouds will never be understood just by observing their radiation behaviour. They are part of the HydroCycle which behaves thermodynamically as a Rankine Cycle, about which a great deal is known but is currently not being considered within the prevailing Groupthink of the GHE and associated radiation means to explain the Climate.

    Large energies are moved by this Cycle upwards through the atmosphere and beyond for dissipation before returning to earth; but this does not appear to be included in the computer models.

    Why not? One may well ask, particularly as these clouds are so evident but do not appear to fit in with the radiation scenario being used to understand the workings of the climate.

    I despair that just about all the articles and comments I read seem to be locked into some form of radiation data analysis rather than going back to those first principles which drive the way water works as it moves through the cycle.

    For example: In some respects water is a Joker in the Pack; as at evaporation the Planck sensitivity coefficient is zero as it occurs at constant temperature; so doesn’t comply with the the logic used by the IPCC in determining the energy flux associated with the GHE. All very inconvenient so perhaps this is the reason why it gets ignored.?

  7. ivan says:

    It might help if those trying to model clouds mathematically looked at Joni Mitchell’s 1969 classic ‘Both Sides Now’ where we see
    ‘I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
    From up and down, and still somehow
    It’s cloud illusions I recall
    I really don’t know clouds at all’

    And realise that they too really don’t know clouds at all and will never be able to describe them mathematically, hence all their climate models are useless in the real world although they might work in the la-la land the so called climate scientists inhabit.

  8. oldbrew says:

    Because these fair-weather clouds (known as cumuliform clouds) are so common, a small change carries ‘huge’ statistical weight in the global climate.

    “It’s the biggest question—there is no bigger question”
    – – –
    As it’s a question, goodbye ‘settled science’ for climate.

  9. jeremyp99 says:

    Once more with feeling…

    “NASA has conceded that climate models lack the precision required to make climate projections due to the inability to accurately model clouds. ”

  10. NeilC says:

    One thing about clouds is the amount of water vapour they hold. I did a small experiment using,17.75,439/loc=-0.076,-0.102

    at 16 locations across the Globe to measure the amount of RH at surface, 1000hPa, 850hPa, 750hPa, 500hPa, 250hPa, 70hPa, and 10hPa.

    The results were interesting to say the least.

    50% of the atmosphere is saturated by water vapour.

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