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Publication Date
13 May 2021

Observational Constraints on Low Cloud Feedback Reduce Uncertainty of Climate Sensitivity



Marine low clouds strongly cool the planet. How this cooling effect will respond to climate change is a leading source of uncertainty in climate sensitivity, the planetary warming resulting from CO2 doubling. Here, we observationally constrain this low cloud feedback at a near-global scale. Satellite observations are used to estimate the sensitivity of low clouds to interannual meteorological perturbations. Combined with model predictions of meteorological changes under greenhouse warming, this permits quantification of spatially resolved cloud feedbacks. We predict positive feedbacks from midlatitude low clouds and eastern ocean stratocumulus, nearly unchanged trade cumulus, and a near-global marine low cloud feedback of 0.19 ± 0.12 W m−2 K−1 (90% confidence). These constraints imply a moderate climate sensitivity (~3 K). Despite improved midlatitude cloud feedback simulation by several current-generation climate models, their erroneously positive trade cumulus feedbacks produce unrealistically high climate sensitivities. Conversely, models simulating erroneously weak low cloud feedbacks produce unrealistically low climate sensitivities.

“Observational Constraints On Low Cloud Feedback Reduce Uncertainty Of Climate Sensitivity”. 2021. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/s41558-021-01039-0.
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