|Clarifying uncertain elements
in the prediction ofglobal warming and improving climate models
In the IPCC Third Assessment Report published in 2001, the predicted
increase in the Earth's surface temperature in 2100 caused by global
warming, estimated by research organizations around the world, ranges
between 1.4ºC to 5.8ºC. One of the major factors in this
is thought to be that the clouds' feedback effect has not been sufficiently
delineated. Dr. Tsushima presented a way to determine the clouds'
feedback effect by analyzing their radiative changes together with
the shifts in global surface temperatures using observation data
from satellites. She then presented issues related to climate models
and the need for improvement.
Dr. Yoko Tsushima
Researcher, Global Warming Research Program
|What is the clouds' feedback effect?
|When we watch the Earth from space, clouds play several important
roles in maintaining the radiative balance. The Earth is heated by
the absorption of solar rays, and it is cooled by the release of thermal
emissions. Clouds reflect sunlight and cool the Earth's surface. They
absorb the thermal energy emitted from the Earth's surface, and re-release
it at cloud level. Because the temperature is lower at higher altitudes,
clouds reduce the energy emitted from the Earth, thereby warming the
planet. If global warming advances, these radiative characteristics
of the clouds may change, further modifying the magnitude of the Earth's
surface temperature*1 increase. This is called the clouds' feedback
|Annual variation of the global
mean surface temperature-one of the symptoms of global warming
|The feedback of clouds due to global warming is inadequately understood,
and thus it is not expressed sufficiently in climate models. This
is a major reason why the predicted value of the temperature increase
published by research organizations in each country varies by as much
In order to reduce such uncertainty, I have focused on the annual
temperature variation of the Earth. The global mean surface temperature
increases by 3.3ºC from January to July. This temperature change can
be considered to be one of the climate changes. I have thought that
the difference from the climate model could be detected by studying
cloud feedback from actual observed data and comparing this feedback
with climate models. I analyzed the average cloud radiation per unit
of time across the entire Earth, data that is collected from a satellite,
and estimated cloud radiation feedback against annual variations.
My result is that this observed value and the value from climate models
differ, and models have some systematic bias.
|A clue to improving the climate
model was found through the analysis of cloud feedback
|Why does cloud feedback show opposing trends between observed data
and climate models? In order to understand this, I analyzed the distribution
of the amount of global cloud water*2. The reason I focused my study
on the amount of cloud water is that a cloud's ability to reflect
sunlight depends greatly on this amount and its condition-whether
it consists of water or ice. When I analyzed the contribution of cloud
water distribution of the model for January and July, I found that
the difference in solar cloud feedback mainly comes from the change
in cloud water in the temperature band between 0ºC and minus 15ºC.
The reason is that the mechanism of the change between a water cloud
and an ice cloud has not yet been elucidated. In many of the current
climate models, cloud phase is simply categorized: a water cloud is
assumed to be above an atmospheric temperature of 0ºC, and an ice
cloud is assumed to be below 15ºC.
While insufficiency in the expression of the cloud phase has been
pointed out before, I showed for the first time that it actually appears
in the difference of cloud feedback between the observation and the
models. This is the significance of my study. Looking ahead, we are
preparing for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and I will continue
my research as part of the larger effort to resolve global warming.
- Clouds' radiative feedback in their annual variations
- ERBE: Observed value
CCCR/NIES, MPI, UKMO: Three major climate models used by international
research organizations that perform global warming experiments
- fc (green): Magnitude of cloud feedback combining
both solar and thermal radiation, fcs (light blue): Cloud feedback
of solar radiation, fcl (red): Cloud feedback of thermal radiation
- The vertical axis indicates the direction of the
effect on the Earth: warming (+) and cooling (-) of the Earth.
- Reflection of solar rays:
In observed values, the effect became smaller with the temperature
increase, indicating the warming of the Earth.
All three models showed the opposite result (cooling of the Earth).
- Regarding the absorption of radiated heat:
In observed values, its effect on global warming weakened, and
the tendency for heat to be released from the Earth strengthened.
All three models showed the opposite result (warming of the Earth).
||Assuming that only the level of CO2
will double in the near future with no other changes in basic
global climate conditions, it is said that the average temperature
of the Earth's surface will increase by approximately 2ºC.
However, it also happens that cloud distribution and optical
properties change in response to increases in temperature, and
the amount of water vapor increases, modulating the increase
in the average temperature at the Earth's surface.
||The amount of cloud water is a special mass or concentration
of water particles forming a cloud. It is expressed as grams
of water contained in 1m3 of air.