Articles | Volume 15, issue 13
Research article
13 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 13 Jul 2015

Wet scavenging limits the detection of aerosol effects on precipitation

E. Gryspeerdt, P. Stier, B. A. White, and Z. Kipling

Abstract. Satellite studies of aerosol–cloud interactions usually make use of retrievals of both aerosol and cloud properties, but these retrievals are rarely spatially co-located. While it is possible to retrieve aerosol properties above clouds under certain circumstances, aerosol properties are usually only retrieved in cloud-free scenes. Generally, the smaller spatial variability of aerosols compared to clouds reduces the importance of this sampling difference. However, as precipitation generates an increase in spatial variability of aerosols, the imperfect co-location of aerosol and cloud property retrievals may lead to changes in observed aerosol–cloud–precipitation relationships in precipitating environments.

In this work, we use a regional-scale model, satellite observations and reanalysis data to investigate how the non-coincidence of aerosol, cloud and precipitation retrievals affects correlations between them. We show that the difference in the aerosol optical depth (AOD)–precipitation relationship between general circulation models (GCMs) and satellite observations can be explained by the wet scavenging of aerosol. Using observations of the development of precipitation from cloud regimes, we show how the influence of wet scavenging can obscure possible aerosol influences on precipitation from convective clouds. This obscuring of aerosol–cloud–precipitation interactions by wet scavenging suggests that even if GCMs contained a perfect representation of aerosol influences on convective clouds, the difficulty of separating the "clear-sky" aerosol from the "all-sky" aerosol in GCMs may prevent them from reproducing the correlations seen in satellite data.

Short summary
Wet scavenging generates differences between the aerosol properties in clear-sky scenes (observed by satellites) and cloudy scenes, leading to different aerosol-precipitation relationships in satellite data and global models. Convective systems usually draw in air from clear-sky regions, but global models have difficulty separating this aerosol from the aerosol in cloudy scenes within a model gridbox. This may prevent models from reproducing the observed aerosol-precipitation relationships.
Final-revised paper