Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Atmospheric Sciences

First Advisor

Xiquan Dong


Past, current, and future climates have been simulated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) ModelE Global Circulation Model (GCM) and summarized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC, AR4). New simulations from the updated CMIP5 version of the NASA GISS ModelE GCM were recently released to the public community during the summer of 2011 and will be included in the upcoming IPCC AR5 ensemble of simulations. Due to the recent nature of these simulations, they have not yet been extensively validated against observations. To assess the NASA GISS-E2-R GCM, model simulated clouds and cloud properties are compared to observational cloud properties derived from the Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) project using MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data for the period of March 2000 through December 2005.

Over the 6-year period, the global average modeled cloud fractions are within 1% of observations. However, further study however shows large regional biases between the GCM simulations and CERES-MODIS observations. The southern mid-latitudes (SML) were chosen as a focus region due to model errors across multiple GCMs within the recent phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). Over the SML, the GISS GCM undersimulates total cloud fraction over 20%, but oversimulates total water path by 2 g m-2. Simulated vertical cloud distributions over the SML when compared to both CERES-MODIS and CloudSat/CALIPSO observations show a drastic undersimulation of low level clouds by the GISS GCM, but higher fractions of thicker clouds.

To assess the impact of GISS simulated clouds on the TOA radiation budgets, the modeled TOA radiation budgets are compared to CERES EBAF observations. Because modeled low-level cloud fraction is much lower than observed over the SML, modeled reflected shortwave (SW) flux at the TOA is 13 W m-2 lower and outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) is 3 W m-2 higher than observations.

Finally, cloud radiative effects (CRE) are calculated and compared with observations to fully assess the impact of clouds on the TOA radiation budgets. The difference in clear-sky reflected SW flux between model and observation is only +4 W m-2 while the SW CRE difference is up to 17 W m-2, indicating that most of the bias in SW CRE results from the all-sky bias between the model and observation. A sizeable negative bias of 10 W m-2 in simulated clear-sky OLR has been found due to a dry bias in calculating observed clear-sky OLR and lack of upper-level water vapor at the 100-mb level in the model. The dry bias impacts LW CRE, with the model undersimulating by 13 W m-2. The net CRE difference is only 5 W m-2 due to the cancellation of SW and LW CRE biases.