The diurnal range of surface air temperature (DTR) has decreased worldwide during the last 4––5 decades and changes in cloud cover are often cited as one of the likely causes. To determine how clouds and moisture affect DTR physically on daily bases, the authors analyze the 30-min averaged data of surface meteorological variables and energy fluxes from the the First International Satellite Land Surface Climatology Project Field Experiment and the synoptic weather reports of 1980––1991 from about 6500 stations worldwide. The statistical relationships are also examined more thoroughly in the historical monthly records of DTR, cloud cover, precipitation, and streamflow of this century. It is found that clouds, combined with secondary damping effects from soil moisture and precipitation, can reduce DTR by 25%%––50%% compared with clear-sky days over most land areas; while atmospheric water vapor increases both nighttime and daytime temperatures and has small effects on DTR. Clouds, which largely determine the geographic patterns of DTR, greatly reduce DTR by sharply decreasing surface solar radiation while soil moisture decreases DTR by increasing daytime surface evaporative cooling. Clouds with low bases are most efficient in reducing the daytime maximum temperature and DTR mainly because they are very effective in reflecting the sunlight, while middle and high clouds have only moderate damping effects on DTR. The DTR reduction by clouds is largest in warm and dry seasons such as autumn over northern midlatitudes when latent heat release is limited by the soil moisture content. The net effects of clouds on the nighttime minimum temperature is small except in the winter high latitudes where the greenhouse warming effect of clouds exceeds their solar cooling effect. The historical records of DTR of the twentieth century covary inversely with cloud cover and precipitation on interannual to multidecadal timescales over the United States, Australia, midlatitude Canada, and former U.S.S.R., and up to 80%% of the DTR variance can be explained by the cloud and precipitation records. Given the strong damping effect of clouds on the daytime maximum temperature and DTR, the well-established worldwide asymmetric trends of the daytime and nighttime temperatures and the DTR decreases during the last 4––5 decades are consistent with the reported increasing trends in cloud cover and precipitation over many land areas and support the notion that the hydrologic cycle has intensified.
Journal of Climate – American Meteorological Society
Published: Jul 9, 1998
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