Chemical and dynamical effects on cloud droplet number: Implications for estimates of the aerosol indirect effect

Most aerosol-cloud-climate assessment studies use empirical aerosol number/droplet number relationships, which are subject to large variability. Historically, this variability has been attributed to unresolved variations in updraft velocity. We revisit this postulation and assess the effects of both updraft velocity and chemical composition on this variability. In doing so we utilize an inverse modeling approach. Using a detailed numerical cloud parcel model and published aerosol characteristics, with published correlations of cloud droplet versus sulfate and cloud droplet versus aerosol number as constraints, we determine a most probable size distribution and updraft velocity for polluted and clean conditions of cloud formation. A sensitivity analysis is then performed to study the variation in cloud droplet number with changes in aerosol chemistry and updraft velocities. This addresses the need to estimate the importance of chemical effects on spatial scales relevant for global climate models. Our analysis suggests that the effect of organic surfactants can introduce as much variability in cloud droplet number as the effect of expected variations in updraft velocity. In addition, the presence of organics seems to further enhance the sensitivity of droplet concentration to vertical velocity variability. The variability from organic surfactants is seen to be insensitive to variations in aerosol number concentration, implying that such effects can affect cloud droplet number consistently over large spatial scales. Our findings suggest that organics can be as important to the aerosol indirect effect as the effect of unresolved cloud dynamics, and they illustrate the potential and complex role of chemical effects on aerosol-cloud interactions. Copyright 2004 by the American Geophysical Union.

Published in:
Journal of Geophysical Research D: Atmospheres, 109, 1-13

 Record created 2018-10-15, last modified 2020-01-20

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