A new paper just published in the Journal of Climate finds that global cloudiness has decreased over the past 39 years from between 0.9 to 2.8% by continent as shown in the figure below:
The period of the study is from 1971 to 2009. The authors say that:
“Global average trends of cloud cover suggest a small decline in total cloud cover, on the order of 0.4% per decade.”
Taken together, global cloud cover decreased and average of 1.56% over this 39 year period. WUWT readers may recall that Dr. Roy Spencer points out the issue of a slight change in cloud cover in his 2010 book intro of The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World’s Top Climate Scientists. He writes:
“The most obvious way for warming to be caused naturally is for small, natural fluctuations in the circulation patterns of the atmosphere and ocean to result in a 1% or 2% decrease in global cloud cover. Clouds are the Earth’s sunshade, and if cloud cover changes for any reason, you have global warming — or global cooling.”
So there you have it, by the work of independent scientists, it is suggested that Dr. Spencer’s hypothesis of just a small change (1-2%) of cloud cover has been observed in their study. This can account for the global warming changes observed. Cloud cover has decreased over the past 39 years globally, and temperatures have risen during that time. This global decrease in cloud cover alone could account for all surface warming observed since the 1970’s. Interestingly, some types of clouds have been on the increase, while others have been on the decrease. Figure 2 shows this:
Now, a cause needs to be identified as to why some clouds increase and others decrease. One of the obvious ones to examine is Svensmark’s cosmic ray hypothesis, which says that as solar (magnetic) activity decreases, cosmic ray insolation intensity increases, and cloud cover increases due to more cosmic ray seeding. Aerosols and ENSO may also figure greatly in cloud formation changes. It will be a tough puzzle to fully disentangle given that there have been a number of stations lost that record cloud cover type and the move has been towards automated systems (like ASOS) which only record cloud height and not type. The data in this study is mostly from human observers noting cloud type and height for aviation purposes. Perhaps there will be a way to get this information as the number of observers decrease from satellite image processing.
Here’s the paper:
A 39-Year Survey of Cloud Changes from Land Stations Worldwide 1971-2009: Long-Term Trends, Relation to Aerosols, and Expansion of the Tropical Belt
Ryan Eastman and Stephen G. Warren
Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195 Journal of Climate 2012: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00280.1
An archive of land-based, surface-observed cloud reports has been updated and now spans 39 years from 1971 through 2009. Cloud-type information at weather stations is available in individual reports or in long-term, seasonal, and monthly averages. A shift to a new data source and the automation of cloud reporting in some countries has reduced the number of available stations; however this dataset still represents most of the global land area.
Global average trends of cloud cover suggest a small decline in total cloud cover, on the order of 0.4% per decade. Declining clouds in middle latitudes at high and middle levels appear responsible for this trend. An analysis of zonal cloud cover changes suggests poleward shifts of the jet streams in both hemispheres. The observed displacement agrees with other studies.
Changes seen in cloud types associated with the Indian monsoon are consistent with previous work suggesting that increased pollution (black carbon) may be affecting monsoonal precipitation, causing drought in North India. A similar analysis over northern China does not show an obvious aerosol connection.
Past reports claiming a shift from stratiform to cumuliform cloud types over Russia were apparently partially based on spurious data. When the faulty stations are removed, a tradeoff of stratiform and cumuliform cloud cover is still observed, but muted, over much of northern Eurasia.
The full paper is available on the author’s website:
Dr. Spencer’s book is available from Amazon: