Absorption of Solar Radiation by Clouds: Observations Versus Models

Science  27 Jan 1995:
Vol. 267, Issue 5197, pp. 496-499
DOI: 10.1126/science.267.5197.496


There has been a long history of unexplained anomalous absorption of solar radiation by clouds. Collocated satellite and surface measurements of solar radiation at five geographically diverse locations showed significant solar absorption by clouds, resulting in about 25 watts per square meter more global-mean absorption by the cloudy atmosphere than predicted by theoretical models. It has often been suggested that tropospheric aerosols could increase cloud absorption. But these aerosols are temporally and spatially heterogeneous, whereas the observed cloud absorption is remarkably invariant with respect to season and location. Although its physical cause is unknown, enhanced cloud absorption substantially alters our understanding of the atmosphere's energy budget.