Articles | Volume 13, issue 21
Research article
04 Nov 2013
Research article |  | 04 Nov 2013

The contribution of the strength and structure of extratropical cyclones to observed cloud–aerosol relationships

B. S. Grandey, P. Stier, R. G. Grainger, and T. M. Wagner

Abstract. Meteorological conditions may drive relationships between aerosol and cloud-related properties. It is important to account for the meteorological contribution to observed cloud–aerosol relationships in order to improve understanding of aerosol–cloud–climate interactions. A new method of investigating the contribution of meteorological covariation to observed cloud–aerosol relationships is introduced. Other studies have investigated the contribution of local meteorology to cloud–aerosol relationships. In this paper, a complimentary large-scale view is presented. Extratropical cyclones have been previously shown to affect satellite-retrieved aerosol optical depth (τ), due to enhanced emission of sea salt and sea surface brightness artefacts in regions of higher wind speed. Extratropical cyclones have also been shown to affect cloud-related properties such as cloud fraction (fc) and cloud top temperature (Ttop). Therefore, it seems plausible to hypothesise that extratropical cyclones may drive relationships between cloud-related properties and τ. In this paper, this hypothesis is investigated for extratropical cyclones, henceforth referred to as storms, over the Atlantic Ocean. MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) retrieved τ, fc and Ttop data are analysed using a storm-centric coordinate system centred on extratropical cyclones which have been tracked using European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) reanalysis 850 hPa relative vorticity data. The tracked relative vorticity (ω) is used as a measure of storm strength, while position in the storm-centric domain is used to account for storm structure. Relationships between the cloud-related properties and τ are measured by calculating regression slopes and correlations. The fc–τ relationships are positive, while the Ttop–τ relationships are negative. By shuffling the pairing of the cloud and τ data at each location in the storm-centric domain and within narrow ω bins, the contribution of storm strength and storm structure to the observed relationships can be investigated. It is found that storm strength and storm structure can explain only a small component of the relationships observed in the MODIS data. The primary causes for observed cloud–aerosol relationships are likely to be other factors such as retrieval errors, local meteorology or aerosol–cloud interactions.

Final-revised paper