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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Aerosol indirect effects -- general circulation model intercomparison and evaluation with satellite data

  • Author(s): Quaas, Johannes
  • et al.

Aerosol indirect effects continue to constitute one of the most important uncertainties for anthropogenic climate perturbations. Within the international AEROCOM initiative, the representation of aerosol-cloud-radiation interactions in ten different general circulation models (GCMs) is evaluated using three satellite datasets. The focus is on stratiform liquid water clouds since most GCMs do not include ice nucleation effects, and none of the model explicitly parameterizes aerosol effects on convective clouds. We compute statistical relationships between aerosol optical depth (Ta) and various cloud and radiation quantities in a manner that is consistent between the models and the satellite data. It is found that the model-simulated influence of aerosols on cloud droplet number concentration (Nd) compares relatively well to the satellite data at least over the ocean. The relationship between Ta and liquid water path is simulated much too strongly by the models. It is shown that this is partly related to the representation of the second aerosol indirect effect in terms of autoconversion. A positive relationship between total cloud fraction (fcld) and Ta as found in the satellite data is simulated by the majority of the models, albeit less strongly than that in the satellite data in most of them. In a discussion of the hypotheses proposed in the literature to explain the satellite-derived strong fcld - Ta relationship, our results indicate that none can be identified as unique explanation. Relationships similar to the ones found in satellite data between Ta and cloud top temperature or outgoing long-wave radiation (OLR) are simulated by only a few GCMs. The GCMs that simulate a negative OLR - Ta relationship show a strong positive correlation between Ta and fcld The short-wave total aerosol radiative forcing as simulated by the GCMs is strongly influenced by the simulated anthropogenic fraction of Ta, and parameterisation assumptions such as a lower bound on Nd. Nevertheless, the strengths of the statistical relationships are good predictors for the aerosol forcings in the models. An estimate of the total short-wave aerosol forcing inferred from the combination of these predictors for the modelled forcings with the satellite-derived statistical relationships yields a global annual mean value of -1.5+-0.5 Wm-2. An alternative estimate obtained by scaling the simulated clear- and cloudy-sky forcings with estimates of anthropogenic Ta and satellite-retrieved Nd - Ta regression slopes, respectively, yields a global annual mean clear-sky (aerosol direct effect) estimate of -0.4+-0.2 Wm-2 and a cloudy-sky (aerosol indirect effect) estimate of -0.7+-0.5 Wm-2, with a total estimate of -1.2+-0.4 Wm-2.

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