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A climatologically significant aerosol longwave indirect effect in the Arctic

Abstract

The warming of Arctic climate and decreases in sea ice thickness and extent1,2 observed over recent decades are believed to result from increased direct greenhouse gas forcing, changes in atmospheric dynamics having anthropogenic origin3,4,5, and important positive reinforcements including ice–albedo and cloud–radiation feedbacks6. The importance of cloud–radiation interactions is being investigated through advanced instrumentation deployed in the high Arctic since 1997 (refs 7, 8). These studies have established that clouds, via the dominance of longwave radiation, exert a net warming on the Arctic climate system throughout most of the year, except briefly during the summer9. The Arctic region also experiences significant periodic influxes of anthropogenic aerosols, which originate from the industrial regions in lower latitudes10. Here we use multisensor radiometric data7,8 to show that enhanced aerosol concentrations alter the microphysical properties of Arctic clouds, in a process known as the ‘first indirect’ effect11,12. Under frequently occurring cloud types we find that this leads to an increase of an average 3.4 watts per square metre in the surface longwave fluxes. This is comparable to a warming effect from established greenhouse gases and implies that the observed longwave enhancement is climatologically significant.

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Figure 1: Demonstration of how surface longwave flux under cloud depends on cloud liquid water path and effective radius.
Figure 2: Examples of AERI measurements.
Figure 3: Demonstration of the aerosol longwave indirect effect from ARM NSA data.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the DOE ARM programme. We thank J. Ogren for access to the NOAA CMDL aerosol data.

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Correspondence to Dan Lubin.

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Lubin, D., Vogelmann, A. A climatologically significant aerosol longwave indirect effect in the Arctic. Nature 439, 453–456 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04449

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