Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 12, 14197-14246, 2012
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Aerosol indirect effect on warm clouds over South-East Atlantic, from co-located MODIS and CALIPSO observations
L. Costantino and F.-M. Bréon
Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, Unité Mixte de Recherche, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, 91191 Gif sur Yvette, France

Abstract. In this study, we provide a comprehensive analysis of aerosol interaction with warm boundary layer clouds, over South-East Atlantic. We use MODIS retrievals to derive statistical relationships between aerosol concentration and cloud properties, together with co-located CALIPSO estimates of cloud and aerosol layer altitudes. The latter are used to differentiate between cases of mixed and interacting cloud-aerosol layers from cases where the aerosol is located well-above the cloud top. This strategy allows, to a certain extent, to isolate real aerosol-induced effect from meteorology.

Similar to previous studies, statistics clearly show that aerosol affects cloud microphysics, decreasing the Cloud Droplet Radius (CDR). The same data indicate a concomitant strong decrease in cloud Liquid Water Path (LWP), in evident contrast with the hypothesis of aerosol inhibition of precipitation (Albrecht, 1989). Because of this water loss, probably due to the entrainment of dry air at cloud top, Cloud Optical Thickness (COT) is found to be almost insensitive to changes in aerosol concentration. The analysis of MODIS-CALIPSO coincidences also evidenced an aerosol enhancement of low cloud cover. Surprising, the Cloud Fraction (CLF) response to aerosol invigoration is much stronger when (absorbing) particles are located above cloud top, than in cases of physical interaction, This result suggests a relevant aerosol radiative effect on low cloud occurrence. Heating the atmosphere above the inversion, absorbing particles above cloud top may decrease the vertical temperature gradient, increase the low tropospheric stability and provide favorable conditions for low cloud formation.

We also focus on the impact of anthropogenic aerosols on precipitation, through the statistical analysis of CDR-COT co-variations. A COT value of 10 is found to be the threshold beyond which precipitation mostly forms, in both clean and polluted environments. For larger COT, polluted clouds showed evidence of precipitation suppression. Results suggest the presence of two competing mechanisms governing LWP response to aerosol invigoration: a drying effect due to aerosol enhanced entrainment of dry air at cloud top (predominant for optically thin clouds) and a moistening effect due to aerosol inhibition of precipitation (predominant for optically thick clouds).

Citation: Costantino, L. and Bréon, F.-M.: Aerosol indirect effect on warm clouds over South-East Atlantic, from co-located MODIS and CALIPSO observations, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 12, 14197-14246, doi:10.5194/acpd-12-14197-2012, 2012.
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