Articles | Volume 11, issue 14
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 7119–7132, 2011
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 7119–7132, 2011

Research article 21 Jul 2011

Research article | 21 Jul 2011

Microphysical, macrophysical and radiative signatures of volcanic aerosols in trade wind cumulus observed by the A-Train

T. Yuan1,2, L. A. Remer2, and H. Yu2,3 T. Yuan et al.
  • 1Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD, USA
  • 2Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA
  • 3Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

Abstract. Increased aerosol concentrations can raise planetary albedo not only by reflecting sunlight and increasing cloud albedo, but also by changing cloud amount. However, detecting aerosol effect on cloud amount has been elusive to both observations and modeling due to potential buffering mechanisms and convolution of meteorology. Here through a natural experiment provided by long-term degassing of a low-lying volcano and use of A-Train satellite observations, we show modifications of trade cumulus cloud fields including decreased droplet size, decreased precipitation efficiency and increased cloud amount are associated with volcanic aerosols. In addition we find significantly higher cloud tops for polluted clouds. We demonstrate that the observed microphysical and macrophysical changes cannot be explained by synoptic meteorology or the orographic effect of the Hawaiian Islands. The "total shortwave aerosol forcin", resulting from direct and indirect forcings including both cloud albedo and cloud amount, is almost an order of magnitude higher than aerosol direct forcing alone. Furthermore, the precipitation reduction associated with enhanced aerosol leads to large changes in the energetics of air-sea exchange and trade wind boundary layer. Our results represent the first observational evidence of large-scale increase of cloud amount due to aerosols in a trade cumulus regime, which can be used to constrain the representation of aerosol-cloud interactions in climate models. The findings also have implications for volcano-climate interactions and climate mitigation research.

Final-revised paper