Articles | Volume 13, issue 6
Research article
18 Mar 2013
Research article |  | 18 Mar 2013

Investigating relationships between aerosol optical depth and cloud fraction using satellite, aerosol reanalysis and general circulation model data

B. S. Grandey, P. Stier, and T. M. Wagner

Abstract. Strong positive relationships between cloud fraction (fc) and aerosol optical depth (τ) have been reported. Data retrieved from the MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument show positive fc–τ relationships across most of the globe. A global mean fc increase of approximately 0.2 between low and high τ conditions is found for both ocean and land. However, these relationships are not necessarily due to cloud–aerosol interactions. Using state-of-the-art Monitoring Atmospheric Composition and Climate (MACC) reanalysis-forecast τ data, which should be less affected by retrieval artefacts, it is demonstrated that a large part of the observed fc–τ signal may be due to cloud contamination of satellite-retrieved τ. For longer MACC forecast time steps of 24 h, which likely contain less cloud contamination, some negative fc–τ relationships are found. The global mean fc increase between low and high τ conditions is reduced to 0.1, suggesting that cloud contamination may account for approximately one half of the satellite-retrieved increase in fc. ECHAM5-HAM general circulation model (GCM) simulations further demonstrate that positive fc–τ relationships may arise due to covariation with relative humidity. Widespread negative simulated fc–τ relationships in the tropics are shown to arise due to scavenging of aerosol by convective precipitation. Wet scavenging events are likely poorly sampled in satellite-retrieved data, because the properties of aerosol below clouds cannot be retrieved. Quantifying the role of wet scavenging, and assessing GCM representations of this important process, remains a challenge for future observational studies of aerosol–cloud–precipitation interactions.

Final-revised paper