DSC Seminar #9 | Clouds, Aerosols and Climate Models


Clouds have a massive effect on our climate. Cloud cover reflects radiation from the sun that would otherwise be absorbed by oceans, raising their temperatures. Cloud cover can also act as a blanket, keeping warmth near the surface. With Adrian McDonald (University of Canterbury) and Vidya Varma (NIWA).

Despite their significant influence on climate, clouds still represent the largest source of uncertainty in modern climate models. For example, the frequency of clouds over the Southern Ocean is often underestimated, causing models to predict warmer sea surface temperatures than observed. In turn, this leads models to predict the strength and position of the storm tracks incorrectly. Storm tracks impact New Zealand directly – bringing not only extreme weather events but also contributing to longer-term changes such as drought or changing rainfall patterns.

It is vital to correct the way clouds are represented in our models, so we can increase certainty in our climate projections for New Zealand.

In this seminar, Adrian and Vidya will present their joint work on Clouds and Aerosols. Adrian will discuss his team’s work collecting and analysing physical and satellite observations during recent voyages to the Southern Ocean. Vidya will describe her work in our NZ earth system modelling programme to identify modelling errors (“biases”) and their underlying causes, and to begin to correct them.

About the presenters

Adrian McDonald is the Director of Gateway Antarctica and an Associate Professor in the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences at the University of Canterbury. Adrian is also the leader of our Processes and Observations programme, and is the Principal Investigator of our Clouds & Aerosols and Satellite Simulator projects. Vidya Varma is a NIWA climate scientist working in our Clouds & Aerosols project. The project aims to improve the representation of clouds and aerosols in the NZ earth system model. Vidya’s areas of interest include modelling high-latitude climate variability (from both anthropogenic and natural causes).


Adrian McDonald

Vidya Varma