Atmospheric aerosols affect cloud properties, and thereby the radiation balance of the planet and the water cycle. However, the influence of aerosols on clouds, and in particular on precipitation, is far from understood1, and seems to depend on factors such as location, season2 and the spatiotemporal scale of the analysis. Here, we examine the relationship between aerosol abundance and rain rate—a key factor in climate and hydrological processes—using rain data from a satellite-based instrument sensitive to stronger rain rates (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission3, TRMM), aerosol and cloud property data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer onboard the Aqua satellite4,5 and meteorological information from the Global Data Assimilation System6. We show that for a range of conditions, increases in aerosol abundance are associated with the local intensification of rain rates detected by the TRMM. The relationship is apparent over both the ocean and land, and in the tropics, subtropics and mid-latitudes. Further work is needed to determine how aerosols influence weaker rain rates, not picked up in the analysis. We also find that increases in aerosol levels are associated with a rise in cloud-top height. We suggest that the invigoration of clouds and the intensification of rain rates is a preferred response to an increase in aerosol concentration.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $15.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
Khain, A. P. Notes on state-of-the-art investigations of aerosol effects on precipitation: A critical review. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 015004 (2009).
Huffman, G. J. et al. The TRMM multisatellite precipitation analysis (TMPA): Quasi-global, multiyear, combined-sensor precipitation estimates at fine scales. J. Hydrometeorol. 8, 38–55 (2007).
Platnick, S. et al. The MODIS cloud products: Algorithms and examples from Terra. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sensing 41, 459–473 (2003).
Remer, L. A. et al. Global aerosol climatology from the MODIS satellite sensors. J. Geophys. Res. 113, D14S07 (2008).
Parrish, D. F. & Derber, J. C. The National-Meteorological-Centers spectral statistical-interpolation analysis system. Mon. Weath. Rev. 120, 1747–1763 (1992).
Twomey, S. The influence of pollution on the shortwave albedo of clouds. J. Atmos. Sci. 34, 1149–1152 (1977).
Koren, I., Martins, J. V., Remer, L. A. & Afargan, H. Smoke invigoration versus inhibition of clouds over the Amazon. Science 321, 946–949 (2008).
Albrecht, B. A. Aerosols, cloud microphysics and fractional cloudiness. Science 245, 1227–1230 (1989).
Rosenfeld, D. Flood or drought: How do aerosols affect precipitation? Science 321, 1309–1313 (2008).
Stevens, B. & Feingold, G. Untangling aerosol effects on clouds and precipitation in a buffered system. Nature 46, 607–613 (2009).
L’Ecuyer, T. S., Berg, W., Haynes, J., Lebsock, M. & Takemura, T. Global observations of aerosol impacts on precipitation occurrence in warm maritime clouds. J. Geophys. Res. 114, D09211 (2009).
Levin, Z. & Cotton, W. R. Aerosol Pollution Impact on Precipitation: A Scientific Review (Springer, 2009).
Teller, A. & Levin, Z. The effects of aerosols on precipitation and dimensions of subtropical clouds: A sensitivity study using a numerical cloud model. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 6, 67–80 (2006).
Rosenfeld, D. Suppression of rain and snow by urban and industrial air pollution. Science 287, 1793–1796 (2000).
Huang, J., Zhang, C. & Prospero, J. M. Large-scale effect of aerosols on precipitation in the West African Monsoon region. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 135, 581–594 (2009).
Jiang, J. H. et al. Clean and polluted clouds: Relationships among pollution, ice clouds, and precipitation in South America. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L14804 (2008).
Jones, T. A. & Christopher, S. A. Statistical properties of aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions in South America. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 10, 2287–2305 (2010).
Lin, J. C., Matsui, T., Pielke, R. A. Sr & Kummerow, C. Effects of biomass-burning-derived aerosols on precipitation and clouds in the Amazon Basin: A satellite-based empirical study. J. Geophys. Res. 111, D19204 (2006).
Martins, J. A., Silva Dias, M. A. F. & Gonçalves, F. L. T. Impact of biomass burning aerosols on precipitation in the Amazon: A modelling case study. J. Geophys. Res. 114, D02207 (2009).
Tao, W-K. et al. Role of atmospheric aerosol concentration on deep convective precipitation: Cloud-resolving model simulations. J. Geophys. Res. 112, D24S18 (2007).
Andreae, M. O. Correlation between cloud condensation nuclei concentration and aerosol optical thickness in remote and polluted regions. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 9, 543–556 (2009).
Koren, I., Feingold, G. & Remer, L. A. The invigoration of deep convective clouds over the Atlantic: Aerosol effect, meteorology or retrieval artifact? Atmos. Chem. Phys. 10, 8855–8872 (2010).
Andreae, M. O. Smoking rain clouds over the Amazon. Science 303, 1337–1342 (2004).
Khain, A. P., BenMoshe, N. & Pokrovsky, A. Factors determining the impact of aerosols on surface precipitation from clouds: An attempt at classification. J. Atmos. Sci. 65, 1721–1748 (2008).
Lindsey, D. T. & Fromm, M. Evidence of the cloud lifetime effect from wildfire-induced thunderstorms. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L22809 (2008).
Lee, S. S., Donner, L. J. & Penner, J. E. Thunderstorm and stratocumulus: How does their contrasting morphology affect their interactions with aerosols? Atmos. Chem. Phys. 10, 6819–6837 (2010).
van den Heever, S. C. & Cotton, W. R. Urban aerosol impacts on downwind convective storms. J. Appl. Meteorol. Clim. 46, 828–850 (2007).
Gagin, A., Rosenfeld, D. & López, R. E. The relationship between height and precipitation characteristics of summertime convective cells in south Florida. J. Atmos. Sci. 42, 84–94 (1985).
Rosenfeld, D. & Ulbrich, C. W. Cloud microphysical properties, processes, and rainfall estimation opportunities. Meteorol. Monogr. 30, 237–237 (2003).
This work was supported in part by the Israel Science Foundation (grant # 1172/10) and the Minerva Foundation (780048). G.F. acknowledges support from NOAA’s Climate Goal Program.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Koren, I., Altaratz, O., Remer, L. et al. Aerosol-induced intensification of rain from the tropics to the mid-latitudes. Nature Geosci 5, 118–122 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1364
Evaluation of convective storms using spaceborne radars over the Indo‐Gangetic Plains and western coast of India
Meteorological Applications (2020)
MODIS collection 6.1 3 km resolution aerosol optical depth product: Global evaluation and uncertainty analysis
Atmospheric Environment (2020)
Global Change Biology (2020)
Vertical Wind Shear Modulates Particulate Matter Pollutions: A Perspective from Radar Wind Profiler Observations in Beijing, China
Remote Sensing (2020)
Evaluation of aerosol and cloud properties in three climate models using MODIS observations and its corresponding COSP simulator, as well as their application in aerosol&#8211;cloud interactions
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (2020)