06 Sep 2021
06 Sep 2021
Status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Cirrus cloud thinning using a more physically-based ice microphysics scheme in the ECHAM-HAM GCM

Colin Tully, David Neubauer, Nadja Omanovic, and Ulrike Lohmann Colin Tully et al.
  • Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. Cirrus cloud thinning (CCT) is a relatively new radiation management proposal to counteract anthropogenic climate warming by targeting Earth’s terrestrial radiation balance. The efficacy of this method was presented in several general circulation model (GCM) studies that showed widely varied radiative responses, originating in part from the differences in the representation of cirrus ice microphysics between the different GCMs. The recent implementation of a new, more physically based ice microphysics scheme (Predicted Particle Properties, P3) that abandons ice hydrometeor size class separation into the ECHAM-HAM GCM, coupled to a new approach for calculating cloud fractions that increases the relative humidity (RH) thresholds for cirrus cloud formation, motivated a reassessment of CCT efficacy. In this study, we first compared CCT sensitivity between the new cloud fraction approach and the original ECHAM-HAM cloud fraction approach. With the P3 scheme and the higher RH thresholds for cirrus cloud formation, we find a significant cooling response of −0.36 Wm−2 only for our simulation with a seeding particle concentration of 1 L−1, due mostly to rapid cloud adjustments. The most notable response is the reduction of the maximum global-mean net top-of-atmosphere (TOA) radiative anomalies from overseeding by more than 50 %, from 9.0 Wm−2 with the original cloud fraction approach, down to 4.3 Wm−2 using the new cloud fraction RH thresholds by avoiding artificial ice-cloud expansion upon ice nucleation. We attribute the large positive TOA anomalies to seeding particles overtaking both homogeneous nucleation and heterogeneous nucleation on mineral dust particles within cirrus clouds to produce more numerous and smaller ice crystals. This effect is amplified by longer ice residence times in clouds due to the more realistic, slower removal of ice via sedimentation in the P3 scheme. In an effort to avoid this overtaking effect of seeding particles, we increased the default critical ice saturation ratio (Si,seed) for ice nucleation on seeding particles from the default value of 1.05 to 1.35 in a second sensitivity test. With the higher Si,seed we eliminate overseeding and are able to produce cooling responses over a broader range of seeding particle concentrations, with the largest cooling of −0.32 Wm−2 for a seeding particle concentration of 10 L−1, which suggests that Si,seed is a key factor to consider for future CCT studies. However, the global-mean TOA anomalies contain high uncertainty. In response, we examined the TOA responses regionally and found that specific regions only show a small potential for targeted CCT, which is partially enhanced by using the larger Si,seed. Finally, in a seasonal analysis of TOA responses to CCT, we find that our results do not support the previous finding that high-latitude wintertime seeding is a feasible strategy to enhance CCT efficacy, as seeding in our model enhances the already positive cirrus longwave cloud radiative effect. Instead, our results show that summertime cooling occurs due to adjustments of lower-lying mixed-phase and liquid clouds. Therefore, we conclude that CCT is unlikely to act as a feasible climate intervention strategy on a global scale, and should be investigated further with higher-resolution studies in potential target regions and with studies dedicated to assessing potentially realistic seeding particle materials.

Colin Tully et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Review of Tully et al.', Anonymous Referee #2, 27 Sep 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on acp-2021-685', David Mitchell, 10 Dec 2021
  • RC3: 'Comment on acp-2021-685', Anonymous Referee #4, 19 Dec 2021

Colin Tully et al.

Colin Tully et al.


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Short summary
The proposed geoengineering method, cirrus cloud thinning, was evaluated using a more physically based microphysics scheme coupled to a more realistic approach for calculating cloud fractions in the ECHAM-HAM GCM. Sensitivity tests reveal that using the new ice-cloud fraction approach and increasing the critical ice saturation ratio for ice nucleation on seeding particles reduces warming from overseeding. However, this geoengineering method is unlikely to be feasible on a global scale.