Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Strong constraints on aerosol–cloud interactions from volcanic eruptions

An Erratum to this article was published on 04 October 2017

This article has been updated


Aerosols have a potentially large effect on climate, particularly through their interactions with clouds, but the magnitude of this effect is highly uncertain. Large volcanic eruptions produce sulfur dioxide, which in turn produces aerosols; these eruptions thus represent a natural experiment through which to quantify aerosol–cloud interactions. Here we show that the massive 2014–2015 fissure eruption in Holuhraun, Iceland, reduced the size of liquid cloud droplets—consistent with expectations—but had no discernible effect on other cloud properties. The reduction in droplet size led to cloud brightening and global-mean radiative forcing of around −0.2 watts per square metre for September to October 2014. Changes in cloud amount or cloud liquid water path, however, were undetectable, indicating that these indirect effects, and cloud systems in general, are well buffered against aerosol changes. This result will reduce uncertainties in future climate projections, because we are now able to reject results from climate models with an excessive liquid-water-path response.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: The column loading of sulfur dioxide.
Figure 2: Changes in cloud properties detected by MODIS AQUA for October 2014.
Figure 3: Changes in cloud properties modelled by HadGEM3 for October 2014.
Figure 4: Modelled perturbations from HadGEM3 using UKCA for September–October 2014.
Figure 5: Multi-model estimates of the changes in cloud properties for October 2014.

Change history

  • 04 October 2017

    Nature 546, 485–491 (2017); doi:10.1038/nature22974 Owing to a production error, the area means in Fig. 3a appeared incorrectly as −0.676 μm instead of −0.68 μm, and in Fig. 3c as –0.745 g m–2, instead of +0.75 g m−2. We also note a mistake in our estimate of the effective radiative forcing (ERF) for the experiment that considers a fissure eruption in June–July.


  1. Twomey, S. The influence of pollution on the shortwave albedo of clouds. J. Atmos. Sci. 34, 1149–1152 (1977)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. Albrecht, B. A. Aerosols, cloud microphysics, and fractional cloudiness. Science 245, 1227–1230 (1989)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Haywood, J. M. & Boucher, O. Estimates of the direct and indirect radiative forcing due to tropospheric aerosols: a review. Rev. Geophys. 38, 513–543 (2000)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Lohmann, U., Koren, I. & Kaufman, Y. J. Disentangling the role of microphysical and dynamical effects in determining cloud properties over the Atlantic. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L09802 (2006)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  5. Mauger, G. S. & Norris, J. R. Meteorological bias in satellite estimates of aerosol-cloud relationships. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L16824 (2007)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Gryspeerdt, E., Quaas, J. & Bellouin, N. Constraining the aerosol influence on cloud fraction. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 121, 3566–3583 (2016)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Ackerman, A. S. et al. The impact of humidity above stratiform clouds on indirect climate forcing. Nature 432, 1014–1017 (2004)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Sandu, I., Brenguier, J. L., Geoffroy, O., Thouron, O. & Masson, V. Aerosol impacts on the diurnal cycle of marine stratocumulus. J. Atmos. Sci. 65, 2705–2718 (2008)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. Stevens, B. & Feingold, G. Untangling aerosol effects on clouds and precipitation in a buffered system. Nature 461, 607–613 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Seifert, A., Köhler, C. & Beheng, K. D. Aerosol-cloud-precipitation effects over Germany as simulated by a convective-scale numerical weather prediction model. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 12, 709–725 (2012)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Lebo, Z. J. & Feingold, G. On the relationship between responses in cloud water and precipitation to changes in aerosol. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 14, 11817–11831 (2014)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Seifert, A., Heus, T., Pincus, R. & Stevens, B. Large-eddy simulation of the transient and near-equilibrium behaviour of precipitating shallow convection. J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst. 7, 1918–1937 (2015)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  13. Quaas, J. et al. Aerosol indirect effects — general circulation model intercomparison and evaluation with satellite data. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 9, 8697–8717 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Penner, J. E., Xu, L. & Wang, M. H. Satellite methods underestimate indirect climate forcing by aerosols. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 13404–13408 (2011)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. Stevens, B. Rethinking the lower bound on aerosol radiative forcing. J. Clim. 28, 4794–4819 (2015)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Ghan, S. et al. Challenges in constraining anthropogenic aerosol effects on cloud radiative forcing using present-day spatiotemporal variability. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 113, 5804–5811 (2016)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. Boucher, O . et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) Ch. 7 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013)

  18. Carslaw, K. S. et al. Large contribution of natural aerosols to uncertainty in indirect forcing. Nature 503, 67–71 (2013)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Hamilton, D. S. et al. Occurrence of pristine aerosol environments on a polluted planet. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 18466–18471 (2014)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. Lohmann, U. et al. Total aerosol effect: radiative forcing or radiative flux perturbation? Atmos. Chem. Phys. 10, 3235–3246 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Gettelman, A. Putting the clouds back in aerosol-cloud interactions. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 15, 12397–12411 (2015)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. McCormick, M. P., Thomason, L. W. & Trepte, C. R. Atmospheric effects of the Mt Pinatubo eruption. Nature 373, 399–404 (1995)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Gassó, S. Satellite observations of the impact of weak volcanic activity on marine clouds. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 113, D14S19 (2008)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  24. Yuan, T., Remer, L. A. & Yu, H. Microphysical, macrophysical and radiative signatures of volcanic aerosols in trade wind cumulus observed by the A-Train. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 11, 7119–7132 (2011)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Schmidt, A. et al. Importance of tropospheric volcanic aerosol for indirect radiative forcing of climate. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 12, 7321–7339 (2012)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Haywood, J. M., Jones, A. & Jones, G. S. The impact of volcanic eruptions in the period 2000–2013 on global mean temperature trends evaluated in the HadGEM2-ES climate model. Atmos. Sci. Lett. 15, 92–96 (2014)

    Google Scholar 

  27. Penner, J. E., Zhou, C. & Xu, L. Consistent estimates from satellites and models for the first aerosol indirect forcing. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L13810 (2012)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. Gettelman, A., Schmidt, A. & Kristjánsson, J.-E. Icelandic volcanic emissions and climate. Nat. Geosci. 8, 243 (2015)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. McCoy, D. T. & Hartmann, D. L. Observations of a substantial cloud-aerosol indirect effect during the 2014–2015 Bárðarbunga-Veiðivötn fissure eruption in Iceland. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 10409–10414 (2015)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  30. Clarisse, L. et al. Tracking and quantifying volcanic SO2 with IASI, the September 2007 eruption at Jebel at Tair. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 8, 7723–7734 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Haywood, J. M. et al. Observations of the eruption of the Sarychev volcano and simulations using the HadGEM2 climate model. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 115, D21212 (2010)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  32. Schmidt, A. et al. Satellite detection, long-range transport, and air quality impacts of volcanic sulfur dioxide from the 2014–2015 flood lava eruption at Bárðarbunga (Iceland). J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 120, 9739–9757 (2015)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Thordarson, T., Self, S., Miller, D. J., Larsen, G. & Vilmundardóttir, E. G. Sulphur release from flood lava eruptions in the Veidivötn, Grímsvötn and Katla volcanic systems, Iceland. Geol. Soc. Lond. Spec. Publ. 213, 103–121 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Polashenski, C. M. et al. Neither dust nor black carbon causing apparent albedo decline in Greenland’s dry snow zone: implications for MODIS C5 surface reflectance. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 9319–9327 (2015)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  35. Platnick, S. et al. MODIS Atmosphere L2 Cloud Product (06_L2) (NASA MODIS Adaptive Processing System, Goddard Space Flight Center, 2015); available at

  36. Zhang, Z. & Platnick, S. An assessment of differences between cloud effective particle radius retrievals for marine water clouds from three MODIS spectral bands. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 116, D20215 (2011)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  37. Stevens, B. & Brenguier, J.-L. in Clouds in the Perturbed Climate System: Their Relationship to Energy Balance, Atmospheric Dynamics, and Precipitation (eds Heintzenberg, J . & Charlson, R. J. ) Ch. 8 (Strüngmann Forum Report, Vol. 2, MIT Press, 2009 ).

  38. Bellouin, N. et al. Aerosol forcing in the Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) simulations by HadGEM2-ES and the role of ammonium nitrate. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 116, D20206 (2011)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  39. Dhomse, S. S. et al. Aerosol microphysics simulations of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption with the UM-UKCA composition-climate model. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 14, 11221–11246 (2014)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  40. Kirkevåg, A. et al. Aerosol-climate interactions in the Norwegian Earth System Model — NorESM1-M. Geosci. Model Dev. 6, 207–244 (2013)

    Google Scholar 

  41. Schmidt, A. et al. The impact of the 1783–1784 AD Laki eruption on global aerosol formation processes and cloud condensation nuclei. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 10, 6025–6041 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  42. Zhang, S. et al. On the characteristics of aerosol indirect effect based on dynamic regimes in global climate models. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 16, 2765–2783 (2016)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  43. Michibata, T., Suzuki, K., Sato, Y. & Takemura, T. The source of discrepancies in aerosol–cloud–precipitation interactions between GCM and A-Train retrievals. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 16, 15413–15424 (2016)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  44. Oreopoulos, L., Cho, N., Lee, D. & Kato, S. Radiative effects of global MODIS cloud regimes. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 121, 2299–2317 (2016)

    ADS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  45. Eguchi, K. et al. Modulation of cloud droplets and radiation over the North Pacific by sulfate aerosol erupted from Mount Kilauea. Sci. Online Lett. Atmos. 7, 77–80 (2011)

    Google Scholar 

  46. Mace, G. G. & Abernathy, A. C. Observational evidence for aerosol invigoration in shallow cumulus downstream of Mount Kilauea. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 2981–2988 (2016)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  47. Myhre, G . et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) Ch. 8 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013)

  48. Golaz, J.-C., Horowitz, L. W. & Levy, H. Cloud tuning in a coupled climate model: impact on 20th century warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 2246–2251 (2013)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  49. Zhou, C. & Penner, J. E. Why do general circulation models overestimate the aerosol cloud lifetime effect? A case study comparing CAM5 and a CRM. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 17, 21–29 (2017)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


J.M.H., A.J., M.D., B.T.J., C.E.J., J.R.K. and F.M.O.C. were supported by the Joint UK BEIS/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the US National Science Foundation. S.B. and L.C. are respectively Research Fellow and Research Associate funded by FRS-FNRS. P.S. acknowledges support from the European Research Council (ERC) project ACCLAIM (grant agreement FP7-280025). J.M.H., F.F.M., D.G.P. and P.S. were part-funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council project ACID-PRUF (NE/I020148/1). A.S. was funded by an Academic Research Fellowship from the University of Leeds and NERC urgency grant NE/M021130/1 (‘The source and longevity of sulphur in an Icelandic flood basalt eruption plume’). R.A. was supported by the NERC SMURPHS project NE/N006054/1. G.W.M. was funded by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, one of the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s research centres. D.P.G. is funded by the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. G.W.M. and S.D. acknowledge additional EU funding from the ERC under the FP7 consortium project MACC-II (grant agreement 283576) and Horizon 2020 project MACC-III (grant agreement 633080). G.W.M., K.S.C. and D.G. were also supported via the Leeds-Met Office Academic Partnership (ASCI project). The work done with CAM5-Oslo is supported by the Research Council of Norway through the EVA project (grant 229771), NOTUR project nn2345k and NorStore project ns2345k. We thank the following researchers who have contributed to the development version of CAM5-Oslo used in this study: K. Alterskjær, A. Grini, M. Hummel, T. Iversen, A. Kirkevåg, D. Olivié, M. Schulz and Ø. Seland. The AQUA/MODIS MYD08 L3 Global 1 Deg. data set was acquired from the Level-1 and Atmosphere Archive and Distribution System (LAADS) Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC), located in the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland ( This work is dedicated to the memory of co-author Jón Egill Kristjánsson who died in a climbing accident in Norway.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



F.F.M. (text, processing and analysis of the satellite data and the model results), J.M.H. (text, analysis of the satellite data and the model results, radiative transfer calculations), A.J., A.G., I.H.H.K. and J.E.K. (model runs), R.A. (processing of the CERES data and contribution to the text), L.C. and S.B. (processing of the IASI data and contribution to the text), L.O., N.C. and D.L. (MODIS cloud regimes), D.P.G. (estimate of CDNC from MODIS data), T.T. and M.E.H. (provided emission estimates for the 2014–2015 eruption at Holuhraun), A.J., N.B., O.B., K.S.C., S.D., G.W.M., A.S., H.C., M.D., A.A.H., B.T.J., C.E.J., F.M.O.C., D.G.P. and P.S. (contribution to the development of UKCA), and G.M., S.P., G.L.S., H.T. and J.R.K. (discussion contributing to text and/or help with the MODIS data).

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Florent F. Malavelle.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Reviewer Information Nature thanks R. Allen, M. Schulz, B. Toon and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Methods, a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Tables, Supplementary Figures, Code Availability, Data availability and Supplementary References. (PDF 30398 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Malavelle, F., Haywood, J., Jones, A. et al. Strong constraints on aerosol–cloud interactions from volcanic eruptions. Nature 546, 485–491 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing