Articles | Volume 24, issue 1
Research article
 | Highlight paper
05 Jan 2024
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 05 Jan 2024

Climatologically invariant scale invariance seen in distributions of cloud horizontal sizes

Thomas D. DeWitt, Timothy J. Garrett, Karlie N. Rees, Corey Bois, Steven K. Krueger, and Nicolas Ferlay


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Discussed (final revised paper)

Latest update: 17 Apr 2024
Executive editor
The field of climate prediction has been bedeviled by the problem of how to represent the enormous complexity of clouds. The usual strategy is to peform deterministic simulations with advanced cloud models. The study outlined here concentrates on a statistical approach that is arguably better suited to determining the mean climatological state. The presented observations from a wide range of satellite platforms show that a power-law well describes frequencies of occurence of cloud sizes across a very wide range of scales, and that the exponent is robust to local climatological characteristics as surface temperature, aerosol loading, Coriolis forces, or dominant cloud type. Instead, the distribution of cloud sizes emerge simply from a competition for energy and air that occurs due to small-scale cloud mixing processes at cloud edge.
Short summary
Viewed from space, a defining feature of Earth's atmosphere is the wide spectrum of cloud sizes. A recent study predicted the distribution of cloud sizes, and this paper compares the prediction to observations. Although there is nuance in viewing perspective, we find robust agreement with theory across different climatological conditions, including land–ocean contrasts, time of year, or latitude, suggesting a minor role for Coriolis forces, aerosol loading, or surface temperature.
Final-revised paper