Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Universitaetsstrasse 16, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
Abstract. Increased Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN) load due to anthropogenic activity might lead to non-precipitating clouds because the cloud drops become smaller (for a constant liquid water content) and, therefore, less efficient in rain formation (aerosol indirect effect). Adding giant CCN (GCCN) into such a cloud can initiate precipitation (namely, drizzle) and, therefore, might counteract the aerosol indirect effect.
The effect of GCCN on global climate, especially on clouds and precipitation, within a General Circulation Model (GCM) is investigated. GCCN are aerosol particles larger than 5–10 μm in radius that can act as cloud condensation nuclei. One prominent GCCN species is sea salt. Sea salt concentrations depend mainly on wind speed but also on relative humidity, stability and precipitation history. Natural variability is much larger than the simulated one because sea salt emissions within ECHAM5 are a function of wind speed only. Giant sea salt concentrations in ECHAM5 are determined by using the tail of the coarse mode aerosol distribution with cutoff radii of 5 μm or 10 μm. It is assumed that activated GCCN particles directly form rain drops (of 25 μm size). Thereby, the added rain water mass and number stems from the redistribution of the condensed water into cloud and rain water according to the number of activated GCCN. As the formed precipitation is most likely drizzle with rather small drops a prognostic rain scheme is applied to account for the lower fall speeds and, therefore, slower sedimentation of the drizzle drops.
The ECHAM5 simulations with incorporated GCCN show that precipitation is affected only locally. Cloud properties like liquid water and cloud drop number show a larger sensitivity to GCCN. On the one hand, the increased rain water mass causes an increase in the accretion rate and, therefore, in the rain production. On the other hand, very high GCCN concentrations can lead to an artificially exaggerated transfer of cloud water to the rain class which then results in a strong decrease of the conversion rate and the rain production.
The introduction of the GCCN reduces the anthropogenic increase of liquid water in the atmosphere from pre-industrial to present day because clouds are precipitating faster in the presence of the GCCN. Hence, the accumulation of liquid water in the atmosphere is reduced. According to those changes in the cloud properties, the radiative budget is also changing. The GCCN cause a reduction of the anthropogenic aerosol indirect effect of about 0.1–0.25 W m−2 which corresponds to 5–10% of the total effect. Thus, the GCCN in ECHAM5 partly offset the anthropogenic aerosol indirect effect.