1Laboratory of Meteorology, Department of Physics, University of Ioannina, Greece
2Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas, Heraklion, Crete, Greece
3Department of Physics, University of Crete, Crete, Greece
4Department of Electrical Engineering, Technological Educational Institute of Crete, Greece
Abstract. A decadal-scale trend in the tropical radiative energy budget has been observed recently by satellites, which however is not reproduced by climate models. In the present study, we have computed the outgoing shortwave radiation (OSR) at the top of atmosphere (TOA) at 2.5° longitude-latitude resolution and on a mean monthly basis for the 17-year period 1984–2000, by using a deterministic solar radiative transfer model and cloud climatological data from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) D2 database. Atmospheric temperature and humidity vertical profiles, as well as other supplementary data, were taken from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction – National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCEP/NCAR) and the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Global Reanalysis Projects, while other global databases, such as the Global Aerosol Data Set (GADS) for aerosol data, were also used. Anomaly time series for the mean monthly pixel-level OSR fluxes, as well as for the key physical parameters, were constructed. A significant decreasing trend in OSR anomalies, starting mainly from the late 1980s, was found in tropical and subtropical regions (30° S–30° N), indicating an increase in solar planetary heating equal to 3.2±0.5 Wm-2 over the 17-year time period from 1984 to 2000 or 1.9±0.3 Wm-2/decade, reproducing well the features recorded by satellite observations, in contrast to climate model results. The model computed trend is in good agreement with the corresponding linear decrease of 3.7±0.5 Wm-2 (or 2.5±0.4 Wm-2/decade) in tropical mean OSR anomalies derived from ERBE S-10N non-scanner data. An attempt was made to identify the physical processes responsible for the decreasing trend in tropical mean OSR. A detailed correlation analysis using pixel-level anomalies of OSR flux and ISCCP cloud cover over the entire tropical and subtropical region (30° S–30° N), gave a correlation coefficient of 0.79, indicating that decreasing cloud cover is the main reason for the tropical OSR trend. According to the ISCCP-D2 data derived from the combined visible/infrared (VIS/IR) analysis, the tropical cloud cover has decreased by 6.6±0.2% per decade, in relative terms. A detailed analysis of the inter-annual and long-term variability of the various parameters determining the OSR at TOA, has shown that the most important contribution to the observed OSR trend comes from a decrease in low-level cloud cover over the period 1984–2000, followed by decreases in middle and high-level cloud cover. Opposite but small trends are introduced by increases in cloud scattering optical depth of low and middle clouds.