Sensitivity of the atmospheric lapse rate to solar cloud absorption in a radiative-convective model

Carynelisa Erlick, V. Ramaswamy

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6 Scopus citations


Previous radiative-convective model studies of the radiative forcing due to absorbing aerosols such as soot and dust have revealed a strong dependence on the vertical distribution of the absorbers. In this study, we extend this concept to absorption in cloud layers, using a one-dimensional radiative-convective model employing high, middle, and low cloud representations to investigate the response of the surface temperature and atmospheric lapse rate to increases in visible cloud absorption. The visible single-scattering albedo (ssa) of the clouds is prescribed, ranging from 1.0 to 0.6, where 0.99 is the minimum that would be expected from the presence of absorbing aerosols within the cloud drops on the basis of recent Monterey Area Ship Track (MAST) Experiment case studies. Simulations are performed with respect to both a constant cloud optical depth and an increasing cloud optical depth and as a function of cloud height. We find that increases in solar cloud absorption tend to warm the troposphere and surface and stabilize the atmosphere, while increases in cloud optical depth cool the troposphere and surface and slightly stabilize the atmosphere between the low cloud top and surface because of the increase in surface cooling. In the absence of considerations involving microphysical or cloud-climate feedbacks, we find that two conditions are required to yield an inversion from a solar cloud absorption perturbation: (1) The solar absorption perturbation must be included throughout the tropospheric clouds column, distributing the solar heating to higher altitudes, and (2) the ssa of the clouds must be ≤0.6, which is an unrealistically low value. The implication is that there is very little possibility of significant stabilization of the global mean atmosphere due to perturbation of cloud properties given current ssa values.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)AAC 6-1 - AAC 6-7
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 27 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


  • Indirect aerosol effect
  • Radiative-convective model
  • Solar cloud forcing


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