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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

Chapter 7 - Clouds and Aerosols


Executive Summary

Clouds and aerosols continue to contribute the largest uncertainty to estimates and interpretations of the Earth's changing energy budget. This chapter focuses on process understanding and considers observations, theory and models to assess how clouds and aerosols contribute and respond to climate change. The following conclusions are drawn.

Progress in Understanding

Many of the cloudiness and humidity changes simulated by climate models in warmer climates are now understood as responses to large-scale circulation changes that do not appear to depend strongly on sub-grid scale model processes, increasing confidence in these changes. For example, multiple lines of evidence now indicate positive feedback contributions from circulation-driven changes in both the height of high clouds and the latitudinal distribution of clouds (medium to high confidence). However, some aspects of the overall cloud response vary substantially among models, and these appear to depend strongly on sub-grid scale processes in which there is less confidence. {7.2.4, 7.2.5, 7.2.6, Figure 7.11}

Climate-relevant aerosol processes are better understood, and climate-relevant aerosol properties better observed, than at the time of AR4. However, the representation of relevant processes varies greatly in global aerosol and climate models and it remains unclear what level of sophistication is required to model their effect on climate. Globally, between 20 and 40% of aerosol optical depth (medium confidence) and between one quarter and two thirds of cloud condensation nucleus concentrations (low confidence) are of anthropogenic origin.

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Climate Change 2013 – The Physical Science Basis
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