Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences People at EPS


Albert Arking

Principal Research Scientist 

116 Olin Hall
(410) 516-7047

Academic Background | Research | Biography | Publications

Mailing Address:
116 Olin Hall
34th and North Charles Streets
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland 21218

Academic Background
1959 Ph.D. Cornell University


Research Interests
Atmospheric Physics, Global Climatology

Most of my attention the past few years has been devoted to the problem of atmospheric absorption of solar radiation. It started in 1995, when several papers were published by prestigious scientists, claiming there is something wrong with climate models, because they generally underestimate the amount of solar radiation absorbed by clouds. Their estimate of the discrepancy is so large that it would be difficult to account for it with current radiative transfer theory. We took a hard look at the problem, and showed that the methodology that had been used to draw the above conclusion was flawed (see paper in Geophysical Research Letters). We then went on to examine available observations and compare them with climate models, and came to the conclusion that there is a discrepancy between models and observations, but it has nothing to do with clouds. In fact, both models and observations agree that clouds have a neutral effect on atmospheric absorption--i.e., atmospheric absorption is independent of cloud amount--but, on the average, absorption in the models is 20-40% less than observed (see papers in Science and Bulletin of American Meteorological Society). We further showed that the discrepancy is a strong function of water vapor, and independent of most aerosol types except carbonaceous aerosols, where there is a weak relationship (see papers in Proceedings of the International Radiation Symposium, and Preprint Volume of the 77th AMS Annual Meeting).

The scientists who initiated the debate, however, have not conceded, and they continue to associate the discrepancy with clouds. With lots of ongoing field experiments devoted to resolving this problem, we continue to examine data and perform theoretical analyses in order to understand how clouds, water vapor, and aerosols interact with solar radiation, the energy that drives the atmosphere and oceans. If our climate models are flawed, then we can hardly rely on what they tell us about global warming and the climatic effects of carbon dioxide. Once this problem is settled, we intend to go back to the broader issue of the feedback effects of clouds and water vapor in a changing climate.



Dr. Albert Arking is a Principal Research Scientist at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, since 1992 Previously, he was a Senior Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

During his tenure at Goddard, he served as Head of the Climate and Radiation Branch in the Laboratory for Atmospheres, 1979-91, as Project Scientist for the TIROS Project (which designed, developed, and built the polar orbiting operational meteorological satellites for NOAA that are now in operation), 1973-82, and as Project Scientist for the VISSR Atmospheric Sounder (VAS) experiment, 1974-79. He was a member of the First ISCCP (International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project) Regional Experiment Team, 1984-91, and was a member of the Nimbus 7 Experiment Team for the Earth Radiation Budget experiment, 1975-85. In 1981 he received the Goddard Exceptional Performance Award, and in 1986 the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

Dr. Arking joined Goddard in 1959 shortly after receiving his Ph.D. degree in physics at Cornell University. His early work at Goddard was in astrophysics and planetary sciences, with radiative transfer being the underlying theme. His current interests are centered on the earth's climate and include atmospheric radiative energy transport, climate modeling, development of methods to extract information from satellite measurements, and the analysis of satellite data related to clouds and the earth radiation energy budget.

Adjunct academic appointments include: Lecturer at City College of New York, 1961-62; Adjunct Assistant and later Adjunct Associate Professor at New York University, 1962-70; Visiting Lecturer at the University of Maryland, Department of Meteorology, 1983-84.

Dr. Arking is currently an Associate Editor of Theoretical and Applied Climatology, and Chairman of the University of Chicago Review Committee for the Environmental Research Division at Argonne National Laboratory. He was a recent member of the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) Working Group on Radiative Fluxes, 1987-1996, and the User Working Group of the Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) at NASA/Goddard, 1992-1997. In addition, he is a member of the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In the American Meteorological Society he was a member of the Committee on Radiation Energy from 1975-78, and was Vice Chairman (1981-83) and Chairman (1983-84) of the Society's DC Chapter.


Johns Hopkins University