Special issue



Surveys in Geophysics
Shallow Clouds, Water vapor, Circulation and Climate Sensitivity
Volume 38, Issue 6, November 2017


Four science questions for a Grand Challenge

  • Clouds, circulation and climate sensitivity:  Nature Geoscience 8, 261–268 (2015) doi:10.1038/ngeo2398 (March 2015)
    S.Bony, B. Stevens, D. M. W. Frierson, C. Jakob, M. Kageyama, R. Pincus, T. G. Shepherd, S. C. Sherwood, A. P. Siebesma, A. H. Sobel, M. Watanabe & M. J. Webb (2015)

As the Earth warms, new questions arise concerning how clouds and circulation systems respond. These questions are both intellectually fascinating and societally important. Will cloud systems organize in entirely different ways in a warmer climate, so as to decrease the warming from CO2? Will shifts in midlatitude storms, or monsoon systems, reshape nations and societies in the future? Does the nature of tropical convection - still one of nature's most mysterious processes - hold the key for the pace of warming?

Answers to these questions are crucial for societies grappling with how to design effective policies for dealing with climate change. Because of technological advances in supercomputing and observational networks, they are also becoming more accessible to researchers.

In a 2015 article featured in Nature Geoscience, Sandrine Bony and Bjorn Stevens describe a new initiative to address these challenges by describing what they believe to be four of the most important questions that would benefit from coordinated scientific action. Bjorn Stevens: "For a long time the scientific community has focused on understanding how much Earth's average temperature will rise for a given input of CO2. We have been slow to realize that to craft effective adaptation policies on the local, regional and national scale it will be important to understand how circulation systems will change with warming. In awakening to this question we have also come to appreciate that changes in circulation systems are closely coupled to how clouds and radiative transfer interact with those systems."

WCRP White paper

WCRP Position papers

  • Carbon Dioxide and Climate : Perspectives on a Scientific Assessment (2013)
    Bony S., B. Stevens, I. Held, J. Mitchell, J.-L. Dufresne, K. Emanuel, P. Friedlingstein, S. Griffies and C. Senior, Monograph on Climate Science for Serving Society: Research, Modelling and Prediction Priorities, Springer, G. Asrar and J. Hurrel editors, in press.
  • Climate Processes: Clouds, Aerosols and Dynamics (2013)
    Sherwood S., M. J. Alexander, A. Brown, N. McFarlane, E. Gerber and G. Feingold, Monograph on Climate Science for Serving Society: Research, Modelling and Prediction Priorities, Springer, G. Asrar and J. Hurrel editors, in press.


Workshop reports

  • 23-27 March 2015:  Ringberg15: Earth's Climate Sensitivities, Schloss Ringberg, Germany
     WCRP Report No. 11/2015
  • 24-28 March 2014:  Workshop Clouds, Circulation and Climate Sensitivity: A Grand Science Challenge, Schloss Ringberg, Germany
     WCRP Report No. 8/2014
  • 10-12 February 2014: Workshop on Water in the Climate System, Boston, USA
    For the workshop report, click here.

Other related papers