Nature 461, 607-613 (1 October 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08281

Untangling aerosol effects on clouds and precipitation in a buffered system

Bjorn Stevens1,2 & Graham Feingold3

It is thought that changes in the concentration of cloud-active aerosol can alter the precipitation efficiency of clouds, thereby changing cloud amount and, hence, the radiative forcing of the climate system. Despite decades of research, it has proved frustratingly difficult to establish climatically meaningful relationships among the aerosol, clouds and precipitation. As a result, the climatic effect of the aerosol remains controversial. We propose that the difficulty in untangling relationships among the aerosol, clouds and precipitation reflects the inadequacy of existing tools and methodologies and a failure to account for processes that buffer cloud and precipitation responses to aerosol perturbations.

  1. Max-Planck-Institut für Meteorologie, KlimaCampus, 20251 Hamburg, Germany
  2. Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1565, USA
  3. NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Chemical Sciences Division, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

Correspondence to: Bjorn Stevens1,2 Correspondence should be addressed to B.S. (Email:


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