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Satellite-based estimate of global aerosol–cloud radiative forcing by marine warm clouds


Changes in aerosol concentrations affect cloud albedo and Earth’s radiative balance1. Aerosol radiative forcing from pre-industrial time to the present due to the effect of atmospheric aerosol levels on the micro- and macrophysics of clouds bears the largest uncertainty among external influences on climate change1. Of all cloud forms, low-level marine clouds exert the largest impact on the planet’s albedo2. For example, a 6% increase in the albedo of global marine stratiform clouds could offset the warming that would result from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations3. Marine warm cloud properties are thought to depend on aerosol levels and large-scale dynamic or thermodynamic states4,5,6. Here we present a comprehensive analysis of multiple measurements from the A-Train constellation of Earth-observing satellites, to quantify the radiative forcing exerted by aerosols interacting with marine clouds. Specifically, we analyse observations of co-located aerosols and clouds over the world’s oceans for the period August 2006–April 2011, comprising over 7.3 million CloudSat single-layer marine warm cloud pixels. We find that thermodynamic conditions—that is, tropospheric stability and humidity in the free troposphere—and the state of precipitation act together to govern the cloud liquid water responses to the presence of aerosols and the strength of aerosol–cloud radiative forcing.

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Figure 1: LWP response to AI for cloud pixels under different environmental conditions.
Figure 2: Cloud property response to varying AI under different environments and non-raining/raining conditions.
Figure 3: Estimated intrinsic aerosol–cloud radiative forcing (as defined in equation (1)) by global marine warm clouds.

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This work was supported by Office of Naval Research grant N00014-14-1-0097.

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Y-C.C., M.W.C., G.L.S. and J.H.S. conceived the research; Y-C.C. and M.W.C. carried out the data analysis; Y-C.C., M.W.C., G.L.S. and J.H.S. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Yi-Chun Chen or John H. Seinfeld.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Chen, YC., Christensen, M., Stephens, G. et al. Satellite-based estimate of global aerosol–cloud radiative forcing by marine warm clouds. Nature Geosci 7, 643–646 (2014).

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