Bild på moln mot solljus vid horisonten. Foto: ISS-041
Anvil on the Horizon, October 2014. Credit: ISS-041



Erik Johansson, PhD candidate
Department of Meteorology, Stockholm University, Sweden


Improving the understanding of cloud radiative heating


Clouds play an essential role in regulating Earth’s radiation budget by reflecting and absorbing energy at different spectra. As they interact with radiation, they can radiatively heat or cool the adjacent atmosphere and the surface. This heating effect can have a strong implication for the circulation and can change the surface properties by, for example, melting sea ice. The lack of high-resolution global observations has previously been a limitation for our understanding of the vertical structure of cloud radiative heating, and for evaluating the cloud radiative effect in climate models. In this thesis, we will investigate and document cloud radiative heating derived from space-based observations. We will focus on two regions, the Arctic and the Tropics, where cloud radiative heating plays an important, but fundamentally different role.

In the Tropics, radiative heating at high altitudes influences the large scale circulation. Stratiform, deep convective, and cirrus clouds have a strong radiative impact in the upper troposphere. We found while investigating the Indian monsoon, that thick stratiform clouds will radiatively heat the upper troposphere by more than 0.2 K/day when the monsoon is most intense during June, July and August. Deep convective clouds cause considerable heating in the middle troposphere and at the same time, cool the tropical tropopause layer (TTL). These two thick cloud types will also cool the surface during the monsoon, weakening the temperature gradient between land and ocean. During these months, cirrus clouds are frequently located inside the TTL. We further find that in the Tropics, the climate model, EC-Earth, can capture the seasonal variations in cloud radiative heating seen in the satellite observations. However, the model overestimates the radiative heating in the upper region  and underestimates them in the middle region of the troposphere. This dissimilarity is caused by unrealistic longwave heating and low cloud fraction in the upper and middle of the troposphere, respectively.

Radiative heating from cirrus, located inside the TTL, is considered to play an important role in the mass transport from the troposphere to the stratosphere. This heating generates enough buoyancy so that the air can pass the barrier of zero net radiative heating. We find that high thin single-layer clouds can heat the upper troposphere by 0.07 K/day. If a thick cloud layer is present underneath, they will radiatively suppress the high cloud, causing it to cool the adjacent air instead. The optical depth and cloud top height of the underlying cloud are two crucial factors that radiatively impact the high cloud above.

Warm moist air is regularly transported from the mid-latitudes into the Arctic by low- and high-pressure systems. As the moist air enters the Arctic, it increases the cloudiness and warms the surface. This surface heating has the potential to affect the ice cover months after the intrusion. We find that during extreme moist intrusions, the surface temperature in the Arctic can rise by more than 5 K during the winter months with an increase in cloudiness by up to 30% downstream from the intrusion. These extra clouds radiatively heat the lower part of the atmosphere and cool the middle part, affecting the stability of the Arctic atmosphere.

Time and Place

Friday December 6, 2019, at 10.00

Q211 Vivi Täckholmsalen, Svante Arrhenius väg 20A