U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Sometimes Simpler is Enough: Representing Cloud-Radiation Effects in Climate Models 
Published: May 18, 2009
Posted: May 20, 2009

A challenge of climate modeling is to accurately and sufficiently represent complex climate processes.  Although it is well known that clouds scatter and emit radiation in all three dimensions, state-of-the-art global climate models (GCMs) represent atmospheric radiation as simple one-dimensional streams.  DOE scientists have now found that statistics for cloud radiative impacts are almost the same for low-level clouds whether cloud-radiative interactions are represented by one-dimensional or three-dimensional approaches.  This result resolves a longstanding question, demonstrating that the simplified approach taken by GCMs is adequate to obtain realistic low-level cloud properties and that a more complicated treatment of radiation that allows streams in multiple directions may not be required.  This is an important and useful result as climate models continue to increase in complexity and computational intensity.


Mechem, D. B., Y. L. Kogan, M. Ovtchinnikov, A. B. Davis, K. F. Evans, and R. G. Ellingson, 2008: Multidimensional longwave forcing of boundary layer cloud systems. J. Atmos. Sci., 65, 3963-3977.

Contact: Kiran Alapaty, SC-23.1, (301) 903-3175
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Atmospheric System Research

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)