Clearing clouds of uncertainty

Since 1990, the wide range in model-based estimates of equilibrium climate warming has been attributed to disparate cloud responses to warming. However, major progress in our ability to understand, observe, and simulate clouds has led to the conclusion that global cloud feedback is likely positive.

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Figure 1: Geographical distribution of the annually averaged net cloud radiative effect at the top of the atmosphere, computed over 2001–2016 from CERES EBAF Ed4.0 (ref. 1).
Figure 2: Global average cloud feedbacks and their impact on climate sensitivity.
Figure 3: Assessed cloud feedbacks and key statements regarding cloud feedbacks from the five IPCC assessment reports.

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Acknowledgements

The work of M.D.Z. and S.A.K. is supported by the Regional and Global Climate Modeling Program of the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy (DOE) and was performed under the auspices of the US DOE by LLNL under contract DE-AC52-07NA27344. D.A.R. was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant AGS-1538532 to Colorado State University. M.J.W. is supported by the Joint UK BEIS/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme's Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP, the US DOE's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provided coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We thank D. S. Linehan, S. Po-Chedley, B. D. Santer, and K. E. Taylor for stimulating discussions and comments on an earlier version of this Commentary.

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Correspondence to Mark D. Zelinka.

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Zelinka, M., Randall, D., Webb, M. et al. Clearing clouds of uncertainty. Nature Clim Change 7, 674–678 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3402

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