Assessing the potential efficacy of marine cloud brightening for cooling Earth using a simple heuristic model
- Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
Abstract. A simple heuristic model is described to assess the potential for increasing solar reflection by augmenting the aerosol population below marine low clouds, which nominally leads to increased cloud droplet concentration and albedo. The model estimates the collective impact of many point-source particle sprayers, each of which generates a plume of injected particles that affects clouds over a limited area. A widely-used aerosol activation scheme is used to derive cloud droplet concentration as a function of the sub-cloud aerosol size distribution and updraft speed, and a modified version of Twomey's formulation is used to estimate radiative forcing. Plume overlap is accounted for using a Poisson distribution assuming idealized elongated cuboid plumes that have a length driven by aerosol lifetime and wind speed, a width consistent with satellite observations of ship track broadening, and a depth equal to an assumed boundary layer depth. The model is found to perform favorably against estimates of brightening from large eddy simulation studies that explicitly model cloud responses to aerosol injections over a range of conditions. Although the heuristic model does not account for cloud condensate or coverage adjustments to aerosol, in most realistic ambient remote marine conditions these tend to augment the Twomey effect in the large eddy simulations, with the resulting being a modest underprediction of brightening in the heuristic model.
The heuristic model is used to evaluate the potential for global radiative forcing from marine cloud brightening as a function of the quantity, size, and lifetime of salt particles injected per sprayer and the number of sprayers deployed. Radiative forcing is sensitive to both the background aerosol size distribution in the marine boundary layer into which particles are injected, and the assumed updraft speed. Given representative values from the literature, radiative forcing sufficient to offset a doubling of carbon dioxide ΔF2xCO2 is possible but would require spraying over 50% or more of the ocean area. This is likely to require at least 104 sprayers to avoid major losses of particles due to near-sprayer coagulation. The optimal dry diameter of injected particles, for a given salt mass injection rate, is 30–60 nm. A major consequence is that the total salt emission rate (50–70 Tg/yr) required to offset F2xCO2 is a factor of five lower than the emissions rates required to generate significant forcing in previous studies with climate models, which have mostly assumed dry diameters for injected particles in excess of 200 nm. With the lower required emissions, the salt mass loading in the marine boundary layer for F2xCO2 is dominated by natural salt aerosol, with injected particles only contributing ~ 10%. When using particle sizes optimized for cloud brightening, the aerosol direct radiative forcing is shown to make a minimal contribution to the overall radiative forcing.
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