Analysis of aerosol effects on warm clouds over the Yangtze River Delta from multi-sensor satellite observations
Abstract. Aerosol effects on low warm clouds over the Yangtze River Delta (YRD, eastern China) are examined using co-located MODIS, CALIOP and CloudSat observations. By taking the vertical locations of aerosol and cloud layers into account, we use simultaneously observed aerosol and cloud data to investigate relationships between cloud properties and the amount of aerosol particles (using aerosol optical depth, AOD, as a proxy). Also, we investigate the impact of aerosol types on the variation of cloud properties with AOD. Finally, we explore how meteorological conditions affect these relationships using ERA-Interim reanalysis data. This study shows that the relation between cloud properties and AOD depends on the aerosol abundance, with a different behaviour for low and high AOD (i.e. AOD < 0.35 and AOD > 0.35). This applies to cloud droplet effective radius (CDR) and cloud fraction (CF), but not to cloud optical thickness (COT) and cloud top pressure (CTP). COT is found to decrease when AOD increases, which may be due to radiative effects and retrieval artefacts caused by absorbing aerosol. Conversely, CTP tends to increase with elevated AOD, indicating that the aerosol is not always prone to expand the vertical extension. It also shows that the COT–CDR and CWP (cloud liquid water path)–CDR relationships are not unique, but affected by atmospheric aerosol loading. Furthermore, separation of cases with either polluted dust or smoke aerosol shows that aerosol–cloud interaction (ACI) is stronger for clouds mixed with smoke aerosol than for clouds mixed with dust, which is ascribed to the higher absorption efficiency of smoke than dust. The variation of cloud properties with AOD is analysed for various relative humidity and boundary layer thermodynamic and dynamic conditions, showing that high relative humidity favours larger cloud droplet particles and increases cloud formation, irrespective of vertical or horizontal level. Stable atmospheric conditions enhance cloud cover horizontally. However, unstable atmospheric conditions favour thicker and higher clouds. Dynamically, upward motion of air parcels can also facilitate the formation of thicker and higher clouds. Overall, the present study provides an understanding of the impact of aerosols on cloud properties over the YRD. In addition to the amount of aerosol particles (or AOD), evidence is provided that aerosol types and ambient environmental conditions need to be considered to understand the observed relationships between cloud properties and AOD.