Counting the Clouds

David A. Randall

Cloud processes are very important for the global circulation of the atmosphere. It is now possible, though very expensive, to simulate the global circulation of the atmosphere using a model with resolution fine enough to explicitly represent the larger individual clouds. An impressive preliminary calculation of this type has already been performed by Japanese scientists, using the Earth Simulator. Within the next few years, such global cloud-resolving models (GCRMs) will be applied to weather prediction, and later they will be used in climate-change simulations. The tremendous advantage of GCRMs, relative to conventional lower-resolution global models, is that GCRMs can avoid many of the questionable “parameterizations” used to represent cloud effects in lower-resolution global models. Although cloud microphysics, turbulence, and radiation must still be parameterized in GCRMs, the high resolution of a GCRM simplifies these problems considerably, relative to conventional models. The United States currently has no project to develop a GCRM, although we have both the computer power and the expertise to do it. A research program aimed at development and applications of GCRMs will be outlined.