Send In The Clouds…

I was over at TallBlokes and he had one of those “look at this” postings he does. It was about clouds.
https://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/the-albedo-of-earth/

Basically it references a paper that says that the albedo of the two hemispheres is identical for all practical puprposes and there most likely is some strong negative feedback that keeps it that way.

Joint analyses of surface solar flux data that are a complicated mix of measurements and model calculations with top-of-atmosphere (TOA) flux measurements from current orbiting satellites yield a number of surprising results including (i) the Northern and Southern Hemispheres (NH, SH) reflect the same amount of sunlight within ~ 0.2Wm2. This symmetry is achieved by increased reflection from SH clouds offsetting precisely the greater reflection from the NH land masses. (ii) The albedo of Earth appears to be highly buffered on hemispheric and global scales as highlighted by both the hemispheric symmetry and a remarkably small interannual variability of reflected solar flux (~0.2% of the annual mean flux). We show how clouds provide the necessary degrees of freedom to modulate the Earth’s albedo setting the hemispheric symmetry. We also show that current climate models lack this same degree of hemispheric symmetry and regulation by clouds. The relevance of this hemispheric symmetry to the heat transport across the equator is discussed.

He points over to Climate Etc. as his source:

http://judithcurry.com/2015/03/10/the-albedo-of-earth/

Where Judith Curry does a very nice job of including quotes of interest, while also having a link to the whole thing and some comments at the end.

The albedo of Earth
Posted on March 10, 2015 | 466 Comments

by Judith Curry

An important new paper finds that the albedo of Earth is highly regulated, mostly by clouds, with some surprising consequences.

The albedo of Earth

Graeme L. Stephens, Denis O’Brien, Peter J. Webster, Peter Pilewski, Seiji Kato, and Jui-lin Li

Abstract. The fraction of the incoming solar energy scattered by Earth back to space is referred to as the planetary albedo. This reflected energy is a fundamental component of the Earth’s energy balance, and the processes that govern its magnitude, distribution, and variability shape Earth’s climate and climate change. We review our understanding of Earth’s albedo as it has progressed to the current time and provide a global perspective of our understanding of the processes that define it. Joint analyses of surface solar flux data that are a complicated mix of measurements and model calculations with top-of-atmosphere (TOA) flux measurements from current orbiting satellites yield a number of surprising results including (i) the Northern and Southern Hemispheres (NH, SH) reflect the same amount of sunlight within ~ 0.2Wm2. This symmetry is achieved by increased reflection from SH clouds offsetting precisely the greater reflection from the NH land masses. (ii) The albedo of Earth appears to be highly buffered on hemispheric and global scales as highlighted by both the hemispheric symmetry and a remarkably small interannual variability of reflected solar flux (~0.2% of the annual mean flux). We show how clouds provide the necessary degrees of freedom to modulate the Earth’s albedo setting the hemispheric symmetry. We also show that current climate models lack this same degree of hemispheric symmetry and regulation by clouds. The relevance of this hemispheric symmetry to the heat transport across the equator is discussed.
[…]
Excerpts from the Introduction:

There are many reasons why it is important to understand the variability of the Earth’s albedo and the factors that define it:

1. Simple energy balance models of the climate system are unstable to small changes in the amount of energy reflected to space. In these simple models with an albedo overly sensitive to surface temperature, relatively small changes in the absorbed solar energy can swing these models from a near ice-free Earth to a fully ice covered state.

2. It is also speculated that albedo changes potentially regulate the climate system. Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, exemplified in the study of “Daisyworld”, suggests that regulation of the system albedo by the adaptation of biota of differing albedos to climate change might in fact buffer the system from the instabilities inherent to earlier energy balance models.

3. The reflection of sunlight by clouds provides an important climate change feedback mechanism. Our inability to quantify these feedbacks with any certainty is recognized as one of the major obstacles in climate change predictions .

4. More locally, the Earths albedo appears to be resilient to other internal changes that might otherwise alter the system albedo. Perturbations to the albedo through effects of aerosol on clouds appears to be buffered by compensating processes that restrict local albedo changes to changing aerosol influences. The implications of these more local compensations to concepts proposed to mitigate climate change through geoengineering cloud albedo are thus profound.

5. Regulation of the Earth’s albedo is also central to other important climate feedbacks, including the snow/ice surface albedo feedback as well as cloud feedbacks.

6. It has also been conjectured that the characteristics of the total energy transport from low to high latitudes are insensitive to the structure and dynamics of the atmosphere-ocean system and are determined primarily by external controls such as the solar constant, the size of the Earth, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and the hemispheric mean albedo.

We show, as in other studies, that the Northern and Southern Hemispheres (NH and SH) reflect the same amount of sunlight within 0.2Wm2. We show clearly how this is achieved as a consequence of reflection from increased amounts of SH clouds offsetting precisely the increased reflection from the larger NH land masses . The spectral distribution of this reflected energy exhibits clear differences between the hemispheres that reinforce our understanding of how the hemispheric symmetry is established.

The albedo appears to be highly constrained on the hemispheric and global scale and over interannual timescales. The hemispheric symmetry is an example of such a constraint, and the interannual variability of reflected energy is another example. The interannual variability is small, mostly regulated by the changes to clouds associated with the main modes of climate variability. Overall, these changes occur in a way that minimizes the global effects of clouds on the albedo, buffering the Earth system from large changes.

We also show that the ability of present-day models of climate in simulating the statistical properties of the energy reflected from Earth varies depending upon the metric used. Models produce a much more variable reflected sunlight than observed and fail to reproduce the same degree of hemispheric symmetry. Simple arguments suggest that a symmetric energy balance implies zero net cross equatorial transport of heat that is also a condition of a steady state. Although Earth is very near this symmetric state, it is out of energy balance, with less outgoing longwave radiative (OLR) emitted from the SH than the NH. This hemispheric asymmetry in OLR contributes to the approximate 0.6Wm2 imbalance observed and is associated with offsetting transports of heat from north to south in the atmosphere and from south to north in the oceans.

And it includes a link to the whole paper here:

http://webster.eas.gatech.edu/Papers/albedo2015.pdf

J.C. comments:

JC reflections

The implications of this paper strike me as profound. Planetary albedo is a fundamental element of the Earth’s climate. This paper implies the presence of a stabilizing feedback between atmosphere/ocean circulations, clouds and radiation. Climate models do not capture this stabilizing feedback.

The results of this paper also have interesting implications for ice ages, whereby the forcing that is predominant in one hemisphere is felt in the other.

The failure of models to reproduce this hemisphere synchronicity raises interesting implications regarding the fidelity of climate model-derived sensitivity to CO2.

Profound is about what I’d say too. It is clear and strong evidence for a negative feedback loop that has tight parameters on it. (I ommitted a comment about the ITCZ moving, but that’s part of it). The simple fact is that this shows that it does not matter if you have a load of land, snow, or dark southern ocean; the Earth responds by adjusting albedo.

While I think her comment about Ice Ages is carefully worded to avoid the point, I’m going to push one of my own views here. This stablizing effect will, IMHO, be found to exist at non-glacial times, but not during full on glacials. In short, as long as the water evaporates enough, the clouds limit upward heating to a strong degree at just a degree or two above present ( interglacials have a hard lid to the upside, then get swatted back down, hard). During a full on glacial, the extraction of water vapor from the air allows unconstrained cooling to the downside until things are very frozen. Yes, in keeping with her careful wording of “interesting implications” and “felt in the other”; but IMHO it needs more emphasis. We are albedo limited to the upside, but albedo even while plunging to the downside.

This is overall rather in keeping with my description of the present regimen as a “heat pipe earth”, and when a heat pipe gets too cold it freezes up and stops moving heat while the cold pole gets very cold.

https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/spherical-heat-pipe-earth/

Still, it is a very striking set of implications. Albedo is a strong negative feedback system regulating upward thermal excursions. So much so that radically different land and sea ratios, heating rates (solar orbital position presently puts about 8% or so more sun on the S.H. IIRC – see the “equation of time”… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equation_of_time that not only tells you how to set your sundials by also where the sun is heating the most…). To have the end result of that and the oceans versus land be effectively nill is impressive.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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9 Responses to Send In The Clouds…

  1. punmaster52 says:

    Went to high school with Al Bedo. He is bald as an egg now, so his reflection coefficient is quite high.

  2. A C Osborn says:

    Basically agreeing with your previous stance and that of Mr Eschenbach along with a lot of other Sceptical Scientists..

  3. Larry Ledwick says:

    If cloud cover is the primary control mechanism of albedo, the close match between the hemispheres would make perfect sense. It would be a natural feed back that which ever hemisphere had lower cloud cover should quickly generate sufficient additional water vapor to reestablish the balance or you would get large scale advection of air across the equator to move the imbalance of heat back into balance. Since a lot of our cloud cover straddles that equatorial zone due to tropical cloud formation it would only take a small shift of that cloud band north or south to bring things back into balance. More important is that cloud formation would be a fast acting feed back as you can build a massive cloud shield from a thunderstorm in just minutes to an hour or so if you have surplus heat and water vapor to drive convection.

    When I was storm chasing I repeatedly saw cloud conditions go from clear and sunny to heavy cloud cover from massive thunderheads covering portions of 3 states in less than an hour.

  4. Chic Bowdrie says:

    Will sufficiently elevated levels of infra-red absorbing gases be sufficient to stave off another glacial period in the event solar insolation wanes or this purported albedo balance breaks down?

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @Larry Ledwick:

    There is an interesting difference between California and Florida. California is generally clear sky for 1/2 a year or so. The “warm” half. During winter we have cloud, fog, rain. In Florida, it gets cloudy when it is warmest as thunderstorms form (and hurricanes…) though there can also be “frontal clouds” in winter as northern cold air moves in to the warm air mass.

    For Florida, the summer pattern follows the daily heat cycle. Rain and thunderstorms just about 2 pm as the daily evaporation reaches cooling altitudes. For California, there is occasional summer cloud, but rare, with things mostly being from major storms / frontal systems comming down out of the Gulf of Alaska (or sometimes the Pineapple Express straight out of Hawaii…).

    My guess would be that both are driven by how hot the oceans get. More ocean heat, more clouds. Just with a cold current rising off the coast of California, we don’t get much summer warm water thunderstorms. Ours have to be from big suckers forming way out in the warmer Pacific (near Hawaii or where the Japan Current ends at Alaska).

    But to your point: In California I’d look out the door to the West in the morning and know if it was going to rain in the next day or two. Took me a few weeks to figure out that didn’t work in Florida and that I needed to ALWAYS carry an umbrella ;-)

    @A.C. Osborn:

    Yup. I expect resonable folks looking at the same data to come to the same conclusion…At some point someone with a Ph.D. will publish it and then all the other Ph.D.s can believe in it ;-)

    @Punmaster52:

    Very punny, very punny… ;-)

  6. Curt says:

    I am certainly not the first engineer to look at the data from the Vostok ice cores and see something of Schmitt trigger behavior in it, especially with regard to the interglacials.

    For non-EEs: a Schmitt trigger is a switching circuit used in digital electronics that uses positive feedback to switch quickly and firmly between high and low states. As it reaches these states, the circuit runs out of potential to keep changing out (it saturates) and the negative feedback regulating the power supply becomes the dominant controlling factor.

    In addition, the cores show that the variation during glacial periods is much higher than in interglacials. The huge swings of Dansgaard-Oeschger events are much bigger than the Bond events of interglacials, which have similar periods.

    During glacial periods, any ice-albedo positive feedback from glacial lines at 45N would certainly be far higher than the ice-albedo feedback and 75N during interglacials, allowing negative feedbacks to dominate climate response and stablilize it.

  7. Ron Clutz says:

    EM, I just completed a study on GHCN adjustments which may be of interest to you.

    Adjustments Multiply Warming at US CRN1 Stations

    A study of US CRN1 stations, top-rated for their siting quality, shows that GHCN adjusted data produces warming trends several times larger than unadjusted data.

    The full text and supporting excel workbooks are available here:

    https://rclutz.wordpress.com/

  8. craigm350 says:

    O/T but I think of interest.

    The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v519/n7543/full/nature14230.html

    BBC has it on the news page as

    DNA study: Celts not a single group

    Then morphs it into

    DNA study shows Celts are not a unique genetic group

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31905764

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