Clouds exert major influences on both shortwave and longwave radiation as well as on the hydrological cycle. Accurate representation of clouds in climate models is a major unsolved problem because of high sensitivity of radiation and hydrology to cloud properties and processes, incomplete understanding of these processes, and the wide range of length scales over which these processes occur. Small changes in the amount, altitude, physical thickness, and/or microphysical properties of clouds due to human influences can exert changes in Earth's radiation budget that are comparable to the radiative forcing by anthropogenic greenhouse gases, thus either partly offsetting or enhancing the warming due to these gases. Because clouds form on aerosol particles, changes in the amount and/or composition of aerosols affect clouds in a variety of ways. The forcing of the radiation balance due to aerosol-cloud interactions (indirect aerosol effect) has large uncertainties because a variety of important processes are not well understood precluding their accurate representation in models.
This page was last updated 2009-01-22.
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