Overlap of solar and infrared spectra and the shortwave radiative effect of methane

J. Li, C. L. Curry, Z. Sun, F. Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper focuses on two shortcomings of radiative transfer codes commonly used in climate models. The first aspect concerns the partitioning of solar versus infrared spectral energy. In most climate models, the solar spectrum comprises wavelengths less than 4 μm with all incoming solar energy deposited in that range. In reality, however, the solar spectrum extends into the infrared, with about 12 W m -2 in the 4-1000-mm range. In this paper a simple method is proposed wherein the longwave radiative transfer equation with solar energy input is solved. In comparison with the traditional method, the new solution results in more solar energy absorbed in the atmosphere and less at the surface. As mentioned in a recent intercomparison of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4) and line-by-line (LBL) radiation models, most climate model radiation schemes neglect shortwave absorption by methane. However, the shortwave radiative forcing at the surface due to CH 4 since the preindustrial period is estimated to exceed that due to CO 2. The authors show that the CH 4 shortwave effect can be included in a correlated k-distribution model, with the additional flux being accurately simulated in comparison with LBL models. Ten-yearGCMsimulations are presented, showing the detailed climatic effect of these changes in radiation treatment. It is demonstrated that the inclusion of solar flux in the infrared range produces a significant amount of extra warming in the atmosphere, specifically (i) in the tropical stratosphere where the warming can exceed 1 K day -1, and (ii) near the tropical tropopause layer. Additional GCM simulations show that inclusion of CH 4 in the shortwave calculations also produces a warming of the atmosphere and a consequent reduction of the upward flux at the top of the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2372-2389
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • ISWS
  • Shortwave radiation
  • Chemistry
  • Infrared radiation
  • Radiative transfer
  • Spectral analysis/models/distribution
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Atmospheric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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