Accessibility navigation

Sensitivity of cirrus and contrail radiative effect on cloud microphysical and environmental parameters

Wolf, K., Bellouin, N. ORCID: and Boucher, O. (2023) Sensitivity of cirrus and contrail radiative effect on cloud microphysical and environmental parameters. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 23 (21). pp. 14003-14037. ISSN 1680-7316

Text (Open Access) - Published Version
· Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.
· Please see our End User Agreement before downloading.


It is advisable to refer to the publisher's version if you intend to cite from this work. See Guidance on citing.

To link to this item DOI: 10.5194/acp-23-14003-2023


Natural cirrus clouds and contrails cover about 30 % of the Earth's mid-latitudes and up to 70 % of the tropics. Due to their widespread occurrence, cirrus clouds have a considerable impact on the Earth energy budget, which, on average, leads to a warming net radiative effect (solar + thermal infrared). However, whether the instantaneous radiative effect (RE), which in some cases corresponds to a radiative forcing, of natural cirrus or contrails is positive or negative depends on their microphysical, macrophysical, and optical properties, as well as the radiative properties of the environment. This is further complicated by the fact that the actual ice crystal shape is often unknown, and thus, ice clouds remain one of the components that are least understood in the Earth's radiative budget. The present study aims to investigate the dependency of the effect on cirrus RE on eight parameters, namely solar zenith angle, ice water content, ice crystal effective radius, cirrus temperature, surface albedo, surface temperature, cloud optical thickness of an underlying liquid water cloud, and three ice crystal shapes. In total, 283 500 plane-parallel radiative transfer simulations have been performed, not including three-dimensional scattering effects. Parameter ranges are selected that are typically associated with natural cirrus and contrails. In addition, the effect of variations in the relative humidity profile and the ice cloud geometric thickness have been investigated for a sub-set of the simulations. The multi-dimensionality and complexity of the eight-dimensional parameter space makes it impractical to discuss all potential configurations in detail. Therefore, specific cases are selected and discussed. For a given parameter combination, the largest impact on solar, thermal-infrared (TIR), and net RE is related to the ice crystal effective radius. The second most important parameter is ice water content, which equally impacts the solar and terrestrial RE. The solar RE of cirrus is also determined by solar zenith angle, surface albedo, liquid cloud optical thickness, and ice crystal shape (in descending priority). RE in the TIR spectrum is dominated by surface temperature, ice cloud temperature, liquid water cloud optical thickness, and ice crystal shape. Net RE is controlled by surface albedo, solar zenith angle, and surface temperature in decreasing importance. The relative importance of the studied parameters differs, depending on the ambient conditions. Furthermore, and during nighttime the net RE is equal to the TIR RE. The data set generated in this work is publicly available. It can be used as a lookup table to extract the RE of cirrus clouds, contrails, and contrail cirrus instead of full radiative transfer calculations.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:114238
Publisher:Copernicus Publications


Downloads per month over past year

University Staff: Request a correction | Centaur Editors: Update this record

Page navigation