Bergman, J. W., and H. H. Hendon, 2000: The impact of clouds on the seasonal cycle of radiative heating over the Pacific. J. Atmos. Sci., 57, 545-566.


Seasonal variations of cloud radiative forcing (CRF) are calculated from observed cloud properties in the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project over the Pacific between 30°S and 30°N. Using 7 yr of data, the first annual harmonic of CRF is statistically significant with respect to the background red noise spectrum at better than a 0.99 confidence level at most locations. It is significant with respect to calculation error at better than a 0.90 confidence level at those same locations. Calculated annual variations are strongest in the subtropics and equatorial east Pacific.

In a linear analysis, annual variations of CRF are attributed to individual annual variations of cloud properties, insolation, or surface temperature. At higher latitudes, the seasonal cycle of CRF at the top of the atmosphere (TOA) and at the surface is dominated by the shortwave (SW) component and results primarily from the seasonal cycle of insolation interacting with the time mean cloud field. Annual variations of cloud fraction and of cloud optical depth are both important in the Tropics, particularly in the east Pacific. Longwave (LW) CRF at TOA is strongest at locations where the seasonal cycle of convection is strong. At those locations, annual variations of CRF result primarily from annual variations of cloud height and not from annual variations of cloud fraction. At the surface, annual variations of LW CRF are small throughout. The annual variations of atmospheric CRF are dominated by the LW component, with the SW component contributing about 20%. As with LW CRF at TOA, annual variations of atmospheric CRF are strongest over convective locations and result from annual variations of cloud height.

The impact of cloud radiative forcing on zonal circulations in the equatorial Pacific and on SST in the east Pacific was analyzed. CRF represents approximately 20% of the annual variations of diabatic heating rates over convective locations and 50% or better at nonconvective locations. Annual variations of atmospheric CRF, when strong, tend to be in phase with those of total diabatic heating rates, indicating that clouds reinforce tropical circulations driven by latent heating.

The role of clouds is particularly important in the east Pacific between 85° and 105°W. Atmospheric CRF is a major component of total diabatic heating over the cold tongue, where seasonal variations of SST are strongest. If seasonal variations of SST in the cold tongue result from seasonal variations of upwelling driven by meridional wind variability, then CRF may play an important role. In contrast, CRF at the surface has only a weak seasonal cycle, with a phase that is not consistent as a forcing for seasonal variations of SST.