Articles | Volume 12, issue 12
Research article
26 Jun 2012
Research article |  | 26 Jun 2012

Radiative forcing estimates of sulfate aerosol in coupled climate-chemistry models with emphasis on the role of the temporal variability

C. Déandreis, Y. Balkanski, J. L. Dufresne, and A. Cozic

Abstract. This paper describes the impact on the sulfate aerosol radiative effects of coupling the radiative code of a global circulation model with a chemistry-aerosol module. With this coupling, temporal variations of sulfate aerosol concentrations influence the estimate of aerosol radiative impacts. Effects of this coupling have been assessed on net fluxes, radiative forcing and temperature for the direct and first indirect effects of sulfate.

The direct effect respond almost linearly to rapid changes in concentrations whereas the first indirect effect shows a strong non-linearity. In particular, sulfate temporal variability causes a modification of the short wave net fluxes at the top of the atmosphere of +0.24 and +0.22 W m−2 for the present and preindustrial periods, respectively. This change is small compared to the value of the net flux at the top of the atmosphere (about 240 W m−2). The effect is more important in regions with low-level clouds and intermediate sulfate aerosol concentrations (from 0.1 to 0.8 μg (SO4) m−3 in our model).

The computation of the aerosol direct radiative forcing is quite straightforward and the temporal variability has little effect on its mean value. In contrast, quantifying the first indirect radiative forcing requires tackling technical issues first. We show that the preindustrial sulfate concentrations have to be calculated with the same meteorological trajectory used for computing the present ones. If this condition is not satisfied, it introduces an error on the estimation of the first indirect radiative forcing. Solutions are proposed to assess radiative forcing properly. In the reference method, the coupling between chemistry and climate results in a global average increase of 8% in the first indirect radiative forcing. This change reaches 50% in the most sensitive regions. However, the reference method is not suited to run long climate simulations. We present other methods that are simpler to implement in a coupled chemistry/climate model and that offer the possibility to assess radiative forcing.

Final-revised paper