• clouds;
  • radiative flux;
  • climate;
  • general circulation models


Satellite measurements and numerical forecast model reanalysis data are used to compute an updated estimate of the cloud radiative effect on the global multi-annual mean radiative energy budget of the atmosphere and surface. The cloud radiative cooling effect through reflection of short wave radiation dominates over the long wave heating effect, resulting in a net cooling of the climate system of − 21 Wm−2. The short wave radiative effect of cloud is primarily manifest as a reduction in the solar radiation absorbed at the surface of − 53 Wm−2. Clouds impact long wave radiation by heating the moist tropical atmosphere (up to around 40 Wm−2 for global annual means) while enhancing the radiative cooling of the atmosphere over other regions, in particular higher latitudes and sub-tropical marine stratocumulus regimes. While clouds act to cool the climate system during the daytime, the cloud greenhouse effect heats the climate system at night. The influence of cloud radiative effect on determining cloud feedbacks and changes in the water cycle are discussed. Copyright © 2011 Royal Meteorological Society