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Absorption of Sunlight by Water Vapor in Cloudy Conditions: A Partial Explanation for the Cloud Absorption AnomalyThe atmospheric radiative transfer algorithms used in most global general circulation models underestimate the globally-averaged solar energy absorbed by cloudy atmospheres by up to 25 W/sq m. The origin of this anomalous absorption is not yet known, but it has been attributed to a variety of sources including oversimplified or missing physical processes in these models, uncertainties in the input data, and even measurement errors. Here, a sophisticated atmospheric radiative transfer model was used to provide a more comprehensive description of the physical processes that contribute to the absorption of solar radiation by the Earth's atmosphere. We found that the amount of sunlight absorbed by a cloudy atmosphere is inversely proportional to the solar zenith angle and the cloud top height, and directly proportional to the cloud optical depth and the water vapor concentration within the clouds. Atmospheres with saturated, optically-thick, low clouds absorbed about 12 W/sq m more than clear atmospheres. This accounts for about 1/2 to 1/3 of the anomalous ab- sorption. Atmospheres with optically thick middle and high clouds usually absorb less than clear atmospheres. Because water vapor is concentrated within and below the cloud tops, this absorber is most effective at small solar zenith angles. An additional absorber that is distributed at or above the cloud tops is needed to produce the amplitude and zenith angle dependence of the observed anomalous absorption.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
External Source(s)
Crisp, D. (Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA United States)
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
March 1, 1997
Publication Information
Publication: Geophysical Research Letters
Volume: 24
Issue: 5
ISSN: 0094-8534
Subject Category
Meteorology and Climatology
Report/Patent Number
Paper 97GL50245
Distribution Limits