Articles | Volume 12, issue 3
Research article
01 Feb 2012
Research article |  | 01 Feb 2012

The role of carbonyl sulphide as a source of stratospheric sulphate aerosol and its impact on climate

C. Brühl, J. Lelieveld, P. J. Crutzen, and H. Tost

Abstract. Globally, carbonyl sulphide (COS) is the most abundant sulphur gas in the atmosphere. Our chemistry-climate model (CCM) of the lower and middle atmosphere with aerosol module realistically simulates the background stratospheric sulphur cycle, as observed by satellites in volcanically quiescent periods. The model results indicate that upward transport of COS from the troposphere largely controls the sulphur budget and the aerosol loading of the background stratosphere. This differs from most previous studies which indicated that short-lived sulphur gases are also important. The model realistically simulates the modulation of the particulate and gaseous sulphur abundance in the stratosphere by the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO). In the lowermost stratosphere organic carbon aerosol contributes significantly to extinction. Further, using a chemical radiative convective model and recent spectra, we compute that the direct radiative forcing efficiency by 1 kg of COS is 724 times that of 1 kg CO2. Considering an anthropogenic fraction of 30% (derived from ice core data), this translates into an overall direct radiative forcing by COS of 0.003 W m−2. The direct global warming potentials of COS over time horizons of 20 and 100 yr are GWP(20 yr) = 97 and GWP(100 yr) = 27, respectively (by mass). Furthermore, stratospheric aerosol particles produced by the photolysis of COS (chemical feedback) contribute to a negative direct solar radiative forcing, which in the CCM amounts to −0.007 W m−2 at the top of the atmosphere for the anthropogenic fraction, more than two times the direct warming forcing of COS. Considering that the lifetime of COS is twice that of stratospheric aerosols the warming and cooling tendencies approximately cancel.

Final-revised paper