Aerosol-induced intensification of rain from the tropics to the mid-latitudes

Abstract

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.

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Figure 1: 13:30 local-time map of rain rate (R) and the observed trend with aerosol loading in four selected regions.
Figure 2: Maps and histograms of the differences in R for the polluted minus the clean sets.
Figure 3: Limiting the meteorological variance.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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I.K. carried out the analysis and wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and implications and commented on the manuscript at all stages.

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Correspondence to Ilan Koren.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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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

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