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Does The Earth Have an Adaptive Infrared Iris?Observations and analyses of water vapor and clouds in the tropics over the past decade suggest a different approach to radiative climate feedbacks: namely, that high clouds and high free-tropospheric relative humidity are largely tied to each other, and that the main feedback consists in changing the relative areas of cloudy/moist regions vis a vis clear/dry regions in response to the surface temperature of the cloudy/moist regions - as opposed to altering the humidity in either of the regions. This is an intrinsically 2-dimensional (horizontal and vertical) effect which does not readily enter simple 1-dimensional (vertical) radiative-convective schemes which emphasize average humidity, etc. Preliminary analyses of cloud data for the eastern part of the Western Pacific from the Japanese GMS-5(Geostationary Meteorological Satellite), are supportive of this suggestion - pointing to a 15% reduction in cloudy/moist area for a 1C increase of the sea surface temperature as measured by the cloud-weighted SST (sea surface temperature). The implication of this result is examined using a simple 2-dimensional radiative-convective model. The calculations show that such a change in the tropics would lead to a strong negative feedback in the global climate, with a feedback factor of about -1.7, which, if correct, would easily dominate the positive water vapor feedback found in current models. This new feedback mechanism, in effect, constitutes an adaptive infrared iris that opens and closes in order to control the OLR (outgoing longwave radiation) in response to changes in surface temperature in a manner similar to the way in which an eye's iris opens and closes in response to changing light levels. The climate sensitivity resulting from this thermostatic mechanism is consistent with the independent determination by Lindzen and Giannitisis (1998). Preliminary attempts to replicate observations with GCMs (General Circulation Models) suggest that models lack such a negative cloud/moist areal feedback.
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
Lindzen, Richard S. (Massachusetts Inst. of Tech. United States)
Chou, Ming-Dah (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD United States)
Hou, Arthur (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD United States)
Date Acquired
September 7, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2000
Subject Category
Meteorology and Climatology
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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