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Cirrus-cloud thermostat for tropical sea surface temperatures tested using satellite data

Naturevolume 358page394 (1992) | Download Citation



RAMANATHAN and Collins1 have suggested cirrus clouds associated with tropical convection might act as a 'thermostat' to limit tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) to less than 305 K by shielding the ocean from sunlight. Here we use satellite radiance data to test this hypothesis. We find that changes in the properties of cirrus clouds do not seem to be related to changes in SSTs. During the 1987 El Niño event, large-scale perturbations to the radiative effects of cirrus clouds were controlled by changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation rather than directly by SSTs. If they are averaged over the entire tropical Pacific, increases in surface evaporative cooling are stronger than decreases in solar

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Author information


  1. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, California, 90024, USA

    • Rong Fu
  2. NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York, 10025, USA

    • Anthony D. Del Genio
    •  & William B. Rossow
  3. NASA/ Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, 91109, USA

    • W. Timothy Liu


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