A net decrease in the Earth's cloud plus aerosol reflectivity during the past 33 yr (1979–2011) and increased solar heating at the surface
1NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
2Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) Center, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Catonsville, MD 21228, USA
3Science Systems and Applications (SSAI), Inc., Lanham, MD 20706, USA
4Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC), University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20740, USA
5Wyle Information Services, McLean, VA 22102, USA
Abstract. Measured upwelling radiances from Nimbus-7 SBUV, seven NOAA SBUV/2 and the AURA-OMI instruments have been used to calculate the 340 nm Lambertian Equivalent Reflectivity (LER) of the Earth from 1979 to 2011 after applying a new common calibration. The 340 nm LER is highly correlated with cloud and aerosol cover because of the low surface reflectivity of the land and oceans (typically 2 to 6 RU, where 1 RU = 0.01 = 1.0%) relative to the much higher reflectivity of clouds plus aerosols (typically 10 to 90 RU). Because of the nearly constant seasonal and long-term 340 nm surface reflectivity, the 340 nm LER can be used to estimate changes in cloud plus aerosol amount associated with seasonal and interannual variability and decadal climate change. The annual motion of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, episodic El Nino Southern Oscillation ENSO, and latitude dependent seasonal cycles are apparent in the LER time series. LER trend estimates from 5° zonal average and from 2° × 5° latitude × longitude time series show that there has been a global net decrease in cloud plus aerosol reflectivity. The decrease in global cos2 (latitude) weighted average LER from 60° S to 60° N is 0.79 ± 0.03 RU over 33 yr, corresponding to a 3.6 ± 0.2% change in LER. Based on energy balance partitioning (Trenberth et al., 2009) this corresponds to an increase of 2.7 W m−2 of solar energy reaching the Earth's surface (an increase of 1.4% or 2.3 W m−2) absorbed by the surface, which is partially offset by an increase in longwave cooling to space. Most of the decreases in cloud reflectivity occur over land, with the largest decreases occurring over the US (−0.97 RU decade−1), Brazil (−0.9 RU decade−1), and Central Europe (−1.35 RU decade−1). There are reflectivity increases near the west coast of Peru and Chile (0.8 ± 0.1 RU decade−1) over parts of India, China, and Indochina, and almost no change over Australia. The largest Pacific Ocean change is −2 ± 0.1 RU decade−1 over the central equatorial region associated with ENSO. An area in Central Greenland shows a decrease in reflectivity of −0.3 ± 0.03 RU decade−1 caused by cloud and possible surface changes.