But experts who were not involved in the research said it is a promising new approach to an issue that has sometimes seemed intractable.
Karen Shell, an atmospheric scientist at Oregon State University, called the new findings "one piece of the climate sensitivity puzzle."
"Knowing that a modeled relative humidity is incorrect does not directly translate into the necessary model improvements, and models might not correctly simulate the dependence of cloud properties on relative humidity," she wrote in an essay accompanying the research, which was also published in Science.
Even models that correctly capture cloud behavior may fail to fully account for other climate feedbacks from factors like changing snow and sea ice cover, atmospheric water vapor content, and temperature. Yet even with those caveats, Shell praised the approach laid out in the new research as a "simple diagnostic ... [and] an encouraging step that links observations to climate sensitivity."
Similarly, Reto Knutti, a climate scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, called the findings "impressive."
"For years we've been trying to find relationships between quantities we can measure and climate sensitivity in order to narrow the plausible range for climate sensitivity. We have largely failed in doing so," Knutti said.
"This new paper is one of the few cases where there is a clear relationship that offers hope to constrain the models, or to identify the better ones based on observations. And it's particularly nice because the authors offer a plausible physical mechanism to explain the results, not just a correlation."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500