The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) will be investing £12 million into a large-scale strategic research programme on Reducing Uncertainties in Climate Models from Clouds.

Clouds emit heat energy back to the earth’s surface, and so can have a warming effect on our climate. But, clouds also reflect incoming sunlight and heat back out into space, and therefore exert a cooling effect. Whether the overall effect of these cloud feedbacks on the climate is warming or cooling depends on the formation, type, and altitude of the clouds; this presents a fundamental and persistent challenge for climate scientists.

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The Reducing Uncertainties in Climate Models from Clouds programme will enable a step change in quantifying and reducing uncertainty due to cloud feedbacks in climate forecasts, by using existing and new observations of the climate, together with new capacity in computer modelling.

The strategic programme area (SPA) is the outcome of NERC’s Ideas process for strategic research. The original idea for the programme came from a National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) Research Forum and was submitted by Prof Alan Blyth, a NCAS scientist based at the University of Leeds. The case was then developed by an independent writing team commissioned by NERC, with further NCAS involvement, and presented to the NERC Science Board by Prof Ken Carslaw (ICAS, University of Leeds) and Prof Joanna Haigh (Imperial College).

NCAS has a long and successful track record of research on clouds and climate. The success of this programme is in part due to a long tradition of combining observations and modelling of physical processes. Long-term collaboration with the Met Office has also led to the development of some of the advanced computer models that will form an essential part of the future research programme.