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Article
Nature 351, 27 - 32 (02 May 1991); doi:10.1038/351027a0

Thermodynamic regulation of ocean warming by cirrus clouds deduced from observations of the 1987 El Niño

V. Ramanathan & W. Collins

Scripps Institution of Oceanography and California Space Institute, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA

Observations made during the 1987 El Niño show that in the upper range of sea surface temperatures, the greenhouse effect increases with surface temperature at a rate which exceeds the rate at which radiation is being emitted from the surface. In response to this 'super greenhouse effect', highly reflective cirrus clouds are produced which act like a thermostat shielding the ocean from solar radiation. The regulatory effect of these cirrus clouds may limit sea surface temperatures to less than 305 K.

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