10.3.2.2 Cloud and Diurnal Cycle
In addition to being an important link to humidity and precipitation, cloud cover plays an important role for the sensitivity of the general circulation models (GCMs; e.g., Soden and Held, 2006) and for the diurnal temperature range (DTR) over land (e.g., Dai and Trenberth, 2004 and references therein) so this section considers the projection of these variables now made possible by multi-model ensembles. Cloud radiative feedbacks to greenhouse gas forcing are sensitive to the elevation, latitude and hence temperature of the clouds, in addition to their optical depth and their atmospheric environment (see Section 18.104.22.168). Current GCMs simulate clouds through various complex parametrizations (see Section 22.214.171.124) to produce cloud cover quantified by an area fraction within each grid square and each atmospheric layer. Taking multi-model ensemble zonal means of this quantity interpolated to standard pressure levels and latitudes shows increases in cloud cover at all latitudes in the vicinity of the tropopause, and mostly decreases below, indicating an increase in the altitude of clouds overall (Figure 10.10a). This shift occurs consistently across models. Outside the tropics the increases aloft are rather consistent, as indicated by the stippling in the figure. Near-surface amounts increase at some latitudes. The mid-level mid-latitude decreases are very consistent, amounting to as much as one-fifth of the average cloud fraction simulated for 1980 to 1999.
Figure 10.10. Multi-model mean changes in (a) zonal mean cloud fraction (%), shown as a cross section though the atmosphere, and (b) total cloud area fraction (percent cover from all models). Changes are given as annual means for the SRES A1B scenario for the period 2080 to 2099 relative to 1980 to 1999. Stippling denotes areas where the magnitude of the multi-model ensemble mean exceeds the inter-model standard deviation. Results for individual models can be seen in the Supplementary Material for this chapter.
The total cloud area fraction from an individual model represents the net coverage over all the layers, after allowance for the overlap of clouds, and is an output included in the data set. The change in the ensemble mean of this field is shown in Figure 10.10b. Much of the low and middle latitudes experience a decrease in cloud cover, simulated with some consistency. There are a few low-latitude regions of increase, as well as substantial increases at high latitudes. The larger changes relate well to changes in precipitation discussed in Section 10.3.2.3. While clouds need not be precipitating, moderate spatial correlation between cloud cover and precipitation holds for seasonal means of both the present climate and future changes.
The radiative effect of clouds is represented by the cloud radiative forcing diagnostic (see Section 126.96.36.199). This can be evaluated from radiative fluxes at the top of the atmosphere calculated with or without the presence of clouds that are output by the GCMs. In the multi-model mean (not shown) values vary in sign over the globe. The global and annual mean averaged over the models, for 1980 to 1999, is –22.3 W m–2. The change in mean cloud radiative forcing has been shown to have different signs in a limited number of previous modelling studies (Meehl et al., 2004b; Tsushima et al., 2006). Figure 10.11a shows globally averaged cloud radiative forcing changes for 2080 to 2099 under the A1B scenario for individual models of the data set, which have a variety of different magnitudes and even signs. The ensemble mean change is –0.6 W m–2. This range indicates that cloud feedback is still an uncertain feature of the global coupled models (see Section 188.8.131.52.2).
The DTR has been shown to be decreasing in several land areas of the globe in 20th-century observations (see Section 184.108.40.206), together with increasing cloud cover (see also Section 220.127.116.11). In the multi-model mean of present climate, DTR over land is indeed closely spatially anti-correlated with the total cloud cover field. This is true also of the 21st-century changes in the fields under the A1B scenario, as can be seen by comparing the change in DTR shown in Figure 10.11b with the cloud area fraction shown in Figure 10.10b. Changes in DTR reach a magnitude of 0.5°C in some regions, with some consistency among the models. Smaller widespread decreases are likely due to the radiative effect of the enhanced greenhouse gases including water vapour (see also Stone and Weaver, 2002). Further discussion of DTR is provided in Section 10.3.6.2.
In addition to the DTR, Kitoh and Arakawa (2005) document changes in the regional patterns of diurnal precipitation over the Indonesian region, and show that over ocean, nighttime precipitation decreases and daytime precipitation increases, while over land the opposite is the case, thus producing a decrease in the diurnal precipitation amplitude over land and ocean. They attribute these changes to a larger nighttime temperature increase over land due to increased greenhouse gases.
Figure 10.11. Changes in (a) global mean cloud radiative forcing (W m–2) from individual models (see Table 10.4 for the list of models) and (b) multi-model mean diurnal temperature range (°C). Changes are annual means for the SRES A1B scenario for the period 2080 to 2099 relative to 1980 to 1999. Stippling denotes areas where the magnitude of the multi-model ensemble mean exceeds the inter-model standard deviation. Results for individual models can be seen in the Supplementary Material for this chapter.