Cloudy Outlook for Climate Models

(Steven Hayward) Anyone who tries to keep up with climate science will know that the biggest question mark concerns the most important aspect of forecasting future warming—the computer climate models. And if you are a glutton for punishment and read (as I do) the chapters on climate models in the periodic reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change you will know that the single biggest problem for climate models is understanding and predicting cloud behavior (and water vapor generally). Because clouds both trap heat—but also reflect heat—and come in many different kinds, the sign of cloud “forcing” (that is—is their effect positive or negative on temperature) is highly variable, depending on circumstances. Even the time of day clouds form and dissipate can have a large effect on temperature. Hence the IPCC reports always say that the level of confidence in our grasp of cloud dynamics is “very low.” (But

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