Absorption of Solar Energy in the Atmosphere: Discrepancy Between Model and Observations

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Science  09 Aug 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5276, pp. 779-782
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5276.779


An atmospheric general circulation model, which assimilates data from daily observations of temperature, humidity, wind, and sea-level air pressure, was compared with a set of observations that combines satellite and ground-based measurements of solar flux. The comparison reveals that the model underestimates by 25 to 30 watts per square meter the amount of solar energy absorbed by Earth's atmosphere. Contrary to some recent reports, clouds have little or no overall effect on atmospheric absorption, a consistent feature of both the observations and the model. Of several variables considered, water vapor appears to be the dominant influence on atmospheric absorption.