NTRS - NASA Technical Reports Server

Back to Results
Radiative Importance of Aerosol-Cloud InteractionAerosol particles are input into the troposphere by biomass burning, among other sources. These aerosol palls cover large expanses of the earth's surface. Aerosols may directly scatter solar radiation back to space, thus increasing the earth's albedo and act to cool the earth's surface and atmosphere. Aerosols also contribute to the earth's energy balance indirectly. Hygroscopic aerosol act as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and thus affects cloud properties. In 1977, Twomey theorized that additional available CCN would create smaller but more numerous cloud droplets in a cloud with a given amount of liquid water. This in turn would increase the cloud albedo which would scatter additional radiation back to space and create a similar cooling pattern as the direct aerosol effect. Estimates of the magnitude of the aerosol indirect effect on a global scale range from 0.0 to -4.8 W/sq m. Thus the indirect effect can be of comparable magnitude and opposite in sign to the estimates of global greenhouse gas forcing Aerosol-cloud interaction is not a one-way process. Just as aerosols have an influence on clouds through the cloud microphysics, clouds have an influence on aerosols. Cloud droplets are solutions of liquid water and CCN, now dissolved. When the cloud droplet evaporates it leaves behind an aerosol particle. This new particle does not have to have the same properties as the original CCN. In fact, studies show that aerosol particles that result from cloud processing are larger in size than the original CCN. Optical properties of aerosol particles are dependent on the size of the particles. Larger particles have a smaller backscattering fraction, and thus less incoming solar radiation will be backscattered to space if the aerosol particles are larger. Therefore, we see that aerosols and clouds modify each other to influence the radiative balance of the earth. Understanding and quantifying the spatial and seasonal patterns of the aerosol indirect forcing may have even greater consequences. Presently we know that through the use of fossil fuel and land-use changes we have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In parallel, we have seen a modest increase of global temperature in the last century. These two observations have been linked as cause and effect by climate models, but this connection is still experimentally not verified. The spatial and seasonal distribution of aerosol forcing is different from that of greenhouse gases, thus generating a different spatial fingerprint of climate change. This fingerprint was suggested as a method to identify the response of the climate system to anthropogenic forcing of greenhouse gases and aerosol. The aerosol fingerprint may be the only way to firmly establish the presence (or absence) of human impact on climate. Aerosol-cloud interaction through the indirect effect will be an important component of establishing this fingerprint.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Tsay, Si-Chee (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD United States)
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1999
Subject Category
Meteorology and Climatology
Meeting Information
PIERS 1999(Taipei)
Distribution Limits