Cosmic rays, cloud condensation nuclei and clouds – a reassessment using MODIS data
Abstract. The response of clouds to sudden decreases in the flux of galactic cosmic rays (GCR) – Forbush decrease events – has been investigated using cloud products from the space-borne MODIS instrument, which has been in operation since 2000. By focusing on pristine Southern Hemisphere ocean regions we examine areas where we believe that a cosmic ray signal should be easier to detect than elsewhere. While previous studies have mainly considered cloud cover, the high spatial and spectral resolution of MODIS allows for a more thorough study of microphysical parameters such as cloud droplet size, cloud water content and cloud optical depth, in addition to cloud cover. Averaging the results from the 22 Forbush decrease events that were considered, no statistically significant correlations were found between any of the four cloud parameters and GCR, when autocorrelations were taken into account. Splitting the area of study into six domains, all of them have a negative correlation between GCR and cloud droplet size, in agreement with a cosmic ray – cloud coupling, but in only one of the domains (eastern Atlantic Ocean) was the correlation statistically significant. Conversely, cloud optical depth is mostly negatively correlated with GCR, and in the eastern Atlantic Ocean domain that correlation is statistically significant. For cloud cover and liquid water path, the correlations with GCR are weaker, with large variations between the different domains. When only the six Forbush decrease events with the largest amplitude (more than 10% decrease) were studied, the correlations fit the hypothesis slightly better, with 16 out of 24 correlations having the expected sign, although many of the correlations are quite weak. Introducing a time lag of a few days for clouds to respond to the cosmic ray signal the correlations tend to become weaker and even to change sign.