Black carbon semi-direct effects on cloud cover: review and synthesis
Abstract. Absorbing aerosols (AAs) such as black carbon (BC) or dust absorb incoming solar radiation, perturb the temperature structure of the atmosphere, and influence cloud cover. Previous studies have described conditions under which AAs either increase or decrease cloud cover. The effect depends on several factors, including the altitude of the AA relative to the cloud and the cloud type. We attempt to categorize the effects into several likely regimes. Cloud cover is decreased if the AAs are embedded in the cloud layer. AAs below cloud may enhance convection and cloud cover. AAs above cloud top stabilize the underlying layer and tend to enhance stratocumulus clouds but may reduce cumulus clouds. AAs can also promote cloud cover in convergent regions as they enhance deep convection and low level convergence as it draws in moisture from ocean to land regions. Most global model studies indicate a regional variation in the cloud response but generally increased cloud cover over oceans and some land regions, with net increased low-level and/or reduced upper level cloud cover. The result is a net negative semi-direct effect feedback from the cloud response to AAs. In some of these climate model studies, the cooling effect of BC due to cloud changes is strong enough to essentially cancel the warming direct effects.