Abstract

Fundamental puzzles of climate science remain unsolved because of our limited understanding of how clouds, circulation and climate interact. One example is our inability to provide robust assessments of future global and regional climate changes. However, ongoing advances in our capacity to observe, simulate and conceptualize the climate system now make it possible to fill gaps in our knowledge. We argue that progress can be accelerated by focusing research on a handful of important scientific questions that have become tractable as a result of recent advances. We propose four such questions below; they involve understanding the role of cloud feedbacks and convective organization in climate, and the factors that control the position, the strength and the variability of the tropical rain belts and the extratropical storm tracks.

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Acknowledgements

This paper was developed as part of the Grand Challenge on Clouds, Circulation and Climate Sensitivity of the World Climate Research Programme. The process of identifying a handful of key scientific questions culminated in a workshop whose participants are gratefully acknowledged: D. Abbot, P. Bauer, M. Biasutti, H. Douville, J-L. Dufresne, A. Del Genio, K. Emanuel, Q. Fu, J. Hargreaves, S. Harrison, I. Held, C. Hohenegger, B. Hoskins, S. Kang, H. Kawai, S. A. Klein, N. Loeb, T. Mauritsen, B. Mapes, M. Miller, C. Muller, C. Prentice, C. Risi, M. Satoh, C. Schumacher, B. Wielicki, M. Yoshimori and P. Zuidema. We thank the German Weather Service, PMIP, EUMETSAT and NASA for data. M. Doutriaux-Boucher (EUMETSAT) provided the satellite products used in Fig. 2a and b. S.B. and B.S. acknowledge support from the LABEX L-IPSL and the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science. M.J.W. was supported by the Joint UK DECC/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. LMD/IPSL, CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, UMR 8539, 4 Place Jussieu, mail box 99, 75252 Paris, France

    • Sandrine Bony
  2. Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstrasse 53, D-20146 Hamburg, Germany

    • Bjorn Stevens
  3. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1640, USA

    • Dargan M. W. Frierson
  4. School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia

    • Christian Jakob
  5. LSCE/IPSL, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, UMR 8212, Orme des Merisiers, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Masa Kageyama
  6. University of Colorado, Boulder, CIRES, 216 UCB, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

    • Robert Pincus
  7. NOAA/Earth System Research Lab, Physical Sciences Division, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

    • Robert Pincus
  8. Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6BB, UK

    • Theodore G. Shepherd
  9. Climate Change Research Centre and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052, Australia

    • Steven C. Sherwood
  10. KNMI, Postbus 201, 3730 AE De Bilt, the Netherlands

    • A. Pier Siebesma
  11. Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Adam H. Sobel
  12. Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, University of Tokyo, Chiba 277-8568, Japan

    • Masahiro Watanabe
  13. Hadley Centre, Met Office, Exeter EX1 3PB, UK

    • Mark J. Webb

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Contributions

S.B. and B.S. led the writing of the paper. All authors contributed to the development and writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sandrine Bony.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2398

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