Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 12, 16493-16514, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed
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This discussion paper has been under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP). Please refer to the corresponding final paper in ACP.
Aerosol lifetime and climate change
G.-J. Roelofs
Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht (IMAU), Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Abstract. The dominant removal mechanism for atmospheric aerosol is activation of particles to cloud droplets and subsequent wet deposition in precipitation. The atmospheric lifetime of aerosol is thus closely coupled to the atmospheric cycling time of water vapor. Changes of hydrological cycle characteristics resulting from climate change therefore directly affect aerosol lifetime, and thus the radiative forcing exerted by aerosol. This study expresses the coupling between water vapor and aerosol lifetimes and their temperature sensitivities in fundamental equations and in terms of the efficiency of processing of air by precipitating clouds. Based on climate model simulations these temperature sensitivities are estimated to be on the order of +5.3% K−1, but this may be an overestimation. Generally, shifting spatial and temporal patterns of aerosol (precursor) emissions and precipitation, and changes in aerosol activation efficiency probably influence aerosol lifetimes more than climate change itself, resulting in a wide range of simulated aerosol lifetime sensitivities between aerosol-climate models. It is possible that the climate sensitivity of models plays a role. It can be argued that climate sensitivity is intrinsically coupled with the simulated (temperature sensitivity of the) aerosol lifetime through the distribution of water vapor and aerosol between the lower and upper troposphere. This implies a fundamental relation between various feedback forcings (water vapor, lapse rate, cloud) and the aerosol forcing, illustrating the key role of the hydrological cycle in different aspects of the climate system.

Citation: Roelofs, G.-J.: Aerosol lifetime and climate change, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 12, 16493-16514, doi:10.5194/acpd-12-16493-2012, 2012.
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