Clouds play a major part in establishing the heat and radiation budgets of the atmosphere. They transport latent heat from the oceans to the atmosphere, they reflect solar radiation back to space, reducing the net incoming radiative flux, and they trap infrared radiation, acting in a similar way to greenhouse gases. Any factor influencing cloud cover thus has the potential to seriously affect climate.
In this section the role of cloud in the radiation budget, and how this impacts radiative forcing, is reviewed. There follows a brief description of how clouds are formed and how their radiative properties relate to their microphysical structure. Finally the potential for cloud cover to be modified by variations in atmospheric ionisation by cosmic rays is briefly discussed.
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