Observing the timescales of aerosol-cloud interactions in snapshot satellite images.

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Date: Apr. 26, 2021
From: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics(Vol. 21, Issue 8)
Publisher: Copernicus GmbH
Document Type: Brief article
Length: 327 words

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Abstract :

The response of cloud processes to an aerosol perturbation is one of the largest uncertainties in the anthropogenic forcing of the climate. It occurs at a variety of timescales, from the near-instantaneous Twomey effect to the longer timescales required for cloud adjustments. Understanding the temporal evolution of cloud properties following an aerosol perturbation is necessary to interpret the results of so-called "natural experiments" from a known aerosol source such as a ship or industrial site. This work uses reanalysis wind fields and ship emission information matched to observations of ship tracks to measure the timescales of cloud responses to aerosol in instantaneous (or"snapshot") images taken by polar-orbiting satellites. As in previous studies, the local meteorological environment is shown to have a strong impact on the occurrence and properties of ship tracks, but there is a strong time dependence in their properties. The largest droplet number concentration (N.sub.d) responses are found within 3 h of emission, while cloud adjustments continue to evolve over periods of 10 h or more. Cloud fraction is increased within the early life of ship tracks, with the formation of ship tracks in otherwise clear skies indicating that around 5 %-10 % of clear-sky cases in this region may be aerosol-limited. The liquid water path (LWP) enhancement and the N.sub.d -LWP sensitivity are also time dependent and strong functions of the background cloud and meteorological state. The near-instant response of the LWP within ship tracks may be evidence of a bias in estimates of the LWP response to aerosol derived from natural experiments. These results highlight the importance of temporal development and the background cloud field for quantifying the aerosol impact on clouds, even in situations where the aerosol perturbation is clear.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A659724968