Articles | Volume 15, issue 21
Research article
09 Nov 2015
Research article |  | 09 Nov 2015

Putting the clouds back in aerosol–cloud interactions

A. Gettelman

Abstract. Aerosol–cloud interactions (ACI) are the consequence of perturbed aerosols affecting cloud drop and crystal number, with corresponding microphysical and radiative effects. ACI are sensitive to both cloud microphysical processes (the "C" in ACI) and aerosol emissions and processes (the "A" in ACI). This work highlights the importance of cloud microphysical processes, using idealized and global tests of a cloud microphysics scheme used for global climate prediction. Uncertainties in key cloud microphysical processes examined with sensitivity tests cause uncertainties of nearly −30 to +60 % in ACI, similar to or stronger than uncertainties identified due to natural aerosol emissions (−30 to +30 %). The different dimensions and sensitivities of ACI to microphysical processes identified in previous work are analyzed in detail, showing that precipitation processes are critical for understanding ACI and that uncertain cloud lifetime effects are nearly one-third of simulated ACI. Buffering of different processes is important, as is the mixed phase and coupling of the microphysics to the condensation and turbulence schemes in the model.

Short summary
Aerosols affect cloud properties, and the radiative effects of clouds. Human emissions of aerosol particles and precursors may alter the radiative effects of clouds. This is generally a cooling effect that offsets other warming effects of human emissions of gases. Simulating these aerosol effects on clouds are highly dependent on the formulation of the microphysical (cloud droplet scale) processes. This work uses model simulations to show these effects are large, and depend on certain processes.
Final-revised paper