Articles | Volume 12, issue 18
Research article
28 Sep 2012
Research article |  | 28 Sep 2012

Impact of natural and anthropogenic aerosols on stratocumulus and precipitation in the Southeast Pacific: a regional modelling study using WRF-Chem

Q. Yang, W. I. Gustafson Jr., J. D. Fast, H. Wang, R. C. Easter, M. Wang, S. J. Ghan, L. K. Berg, L. R. Leung, and H. Morrison

Abstract. Cloud-system resolving simulations with the chemistry version of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF-Chem) model are used to quantify the relative impacts of regional anthropogenic and oceanic emissions on changes in aerosol properties, cloud macro- and microphysics, and cloud radiative forcing over the Southeast Pacific (SEP) during the VAMOS Ocean-Cloud-Atmosphere-Land Study Regional Experiment (VOCALS-REx) (15 October–16 November 2008). Two distinct regions are identified. The near-coast polluted region is characterized by low surface precipitation rates, the strong suppression of non-sea-salt particle activation due to sea-salt particles, a predominant albedo effect in aerosol indirect effects, and limited impact of aerosols associated with anthropogenic emissions on clouds. Opposite sensitivities to natural marine and anthropogenic aerosol perturbations are seen in cloud properties (e.g., cloud optical depth and cloud-top and cloud-base heights), precipitation, and the top-of-atmosphere and surface shortwave fluxes over this region. The relatively clean remote region is characterized by large contributions of aerosols from non-regional sources (lateral boundaries) and much stronger drizzle at the surface. Under a scenario of five-fold increase in regional anthropogenic emissions, this relatively clean region shows large cloud responses, for example, a 13% increase in cloud-top height and a 9% increase in albedo in response to a moderate increase (25% of the reference case) in cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) concentration. The reduction of precipitation due to this increase in anthropogenic aerosols more than doubles the aerosol lifetime in the clean marine boundary layer. Therefore, the aerosol impacts on precipitation are amplified by the positive feedback of precipitation on aerosol, which ultimately alters the cloud micro- and macro-physical properties, leading to strong aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions. The high sensitivity is also related to an increase in cloud-top entrainment rate (by 16% at night) due to the increased anthropogenic aerosols. The simulated aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions due to the increased anthropogenic aerosols have a stronger diurnal cycle over the clean region compared to the near-coast region with stronger interactions at night. During the day, solar heating results in more frequent decoupling of the cloud and sub-cloud layers, thinner clouds, reduced precipitation, and reduced sensitivity to the increase in anthropogenic emissions. This study shows the importance of natural aerosols in accurately quantifying anthropogenic forcing within a regional modeling framework. The results of this study also imply that the energy balance perturbations from increased anthropogenic emissions are larger in the more susceptible clean environment than in already polluted environment and are larger than possible from the first indirect effect alone.

Final-revised paper