Cloud and radiative balance changes in response to ENSO in observations and models

Claire Radley, Stephan Andreas Fueglistaler, Leo Donner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The authors use observations and four GFDL AGCMs to analyze the relation between variations in spatial patterns and area-averaged quantities in the top-of-the-atmosphere radiative fluxes, cloud amount, and precipitation related to El Niño over the period 1979-2008. El Niño is associated with an increase in tropical average sea surface temperature of order +0.1K (with a maxima of +0.5 K), large local anomalies of +2K (maxima +6 K), and tropical tropospheric warming of +0.5K (maxima +1 K). The authors find that modelto-observation biases in the base state translate into corresponding biases in anomalies in response to El Niño. The pattern and amplitude of model biases in reflected shortwave (SW) and outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) follows expectations based on their biases in cloud amount: models with a positive cloud amount bias, compared to observations, have too strong local responses to El Niño in cloud amount, SW, OLR, and precipitation. Tropical averageOLRincreases in response to El Niño in observations and models [correlation coefficients (r) with Niño-3.4 index in the range 0.4-0.6]. Weaker correlations are found for SW (r: -0.6 to 0), cloud amount (r: -0.2 to +0.1), and precipitation (r: -0.2 to 0). Compositing El Niño events over the period 2001- 07 yields similar results. These results are consistent with El Niño periods being warmer due to a heat pulse from the ocean, and a weak response in clouds and their radiative effect. These weak responses occur despite a large rearrangement in the spatial structure of the tropical circulation, and despite substantial differences in the mean state of observations and models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3100-3113
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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