Aerosol forcing masks and delays the formation of the North-Atlantic warming hole by three decades

Geophysical Research Letters American Geophysical Union 47:22 (2020) e2020GL090778

Authors:

Guy Dagan, Philip Stier, Duncan Watson-Parris

Abstract:

The North-Atlantic warming hole (NAWH) is referred to as a reduced warming, or even cooling, of the North-Atlantic during an anthropogenic-driven global warming. A NAWH is predicted by climate models during the 21st century and its pattern is already emerging in observations. Despite the known key role of the North-Atlantic surface temperatures in setting the Northern-Hemisphere climate, the mechanisms behind the NAWH are still not fully understood. Using state-of-the-art climate models, we show that anthropogenic aerosol forcing opposes the formation of the NAWH (by leading to a local warming) and delays its emergence by about 30 years. In agreement with previous studies, we also demonstrate that the relative warming of the North-Atlantic under aerosol forcing is due to changes in ocean heat fluxes, rather than air-sea fluxes. These results suggest that the predicted reduction in aerosol forcing during the 21st century may accelerate the formation of the NAWH.

A large-scale analysis of pockets of open cells and their radiative impact

Geophysical Research Letters American Geophysical Union 48:6 (2021) e2020GL092213

Authors:

duncan Watson-Parris, Sam Sutherland, Matt Christensen, Ryan Eastman, Philip Stier

Abstract:

Pockets of open cells sometimes form within closed‐cell stratocumulus cloud decks but little is known about their statistical properties or prevalence. A convolutional neural network was used to detect occurrences of pockets of open cells (POCs). Trained on a small hand‐logged dataset and applied to 13 years of satellite imagery the neural network is able to classify 8,491 POCs. This extensive database allows the first robust analysis of the spatial and temporal prevalence of these phenomena, as well as a detailed analysis of their micro‐physical properties. We find a large (30%) increase in cloud effective radius inside POCs as compared to their surroundings and similarly large (20%) decrease in cloud fraction. This also allows their global radiative effect to be determined. Using simple radiative approximations we find that the instantaneous global annual mean top‐of‐atmosphere perturbation by all POCs is only 0.01 W/m2.

On the contribution of fast and slow responses to precipitation changes caused by aerosol perturbations

Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 21:13 (2021) 10179-10197

Authors:

S Zhang, P Stier, D Watson-Parris

Abstract:

Changes in global-mean precipitation are strongly constrained by global radiative cooling, while regional rainfall changes are less constrained because energy can be transported. Absorbing and non-absorbing aerosols have different effects on both global-mean and regional precipitation, due to the distinct effects on energetics. This study analyses the precipitation responses to large perturbations in black carbon (BC) and sulfate (SUL) by examining the changes in atmospheric energy budget terms on global and regional scales, in terms of fast (independent of changes in sea surface temperature, SST) and slow responses (mediated by changes in SST). Changes in atmospheric radiative cooling/heating are further decomposed into contributions from clouds, aerosols, and clear-clean sky (without clouds or aerosols). Both cases show a decrease in global-mean precipitation, which is dominated by fast responses in the BC case and slow responses in the SUL case. The geographical patterns are distinct too. The intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), accompanied by tropical rainfall, shifts northward in the BC case, while it shifts southward in the SUL case. For both cases, energy transport terms from the slow response dominate the changes in tropical rainfall, which are associated with the northward (southward) shift of the Hadley cell in response to the enhanced southward (northward) cross-equatorial energy flux caused by increased BC (SUL) emission. The extra-tropical precipitation decreases in both cases. For the BC case, fast responses to increased atmospheric radiative heating contribute most to the reduced rainfall, in which absorbing aerosols directly heat the mid-troposphere, stabilise the column, and suppress precipitation. Unlike BC, non-absorbing aerosols decrease surface temperatures through slow processes, cool the whole atmospheric column, and reduce specific humidity, which leads to decreased radiative cooling from the clear-clean sky, which is consistent with the reduced rainfall. Examining the changes in large-scale circulation and local thermodynamics qualitatively explains the responses of precipitation to aerosol perturbations, whereas the energetic perspective provides a method to quantify their contributions.

Isolating large-scale smoke impacts on cloud and precipitation processes over the Amazon with convection permitting resolution

Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres American Geophysical Union 126:13 (2021) e2021JD034615

Authors:

Ross Herbert, Philip Stier, Guy Dagan

Abstract:

Absorbing aerosol from biomass burning impacts the hydrological cycle and radiation fluxes both directly and indirectly via modifications to convective processes and cloud development. Using the ICON model in a regional configuration with 1500 m convection-permitting resolution, we isolate the response of the Amazonian atmosphere to biomass burning smoke via enhanced cloud droplet number concentrations Nd (aerosol-cloud-interactions; ACI) and changes to radiative fluxes (aerosol-radiation-interactions; ARI) over a period of 8 days. We decompose ARI into contributions from reduced shortwave radiation and localized heating of the smoke. We show ARI influences the formation and development of convective cells: surface cooling below the smoke drives suppression of convection that increases with smoke optical depth, whilst the elevated heating promotes initial suppression and subsequent intensification of convection overnight; a corresponding diurnal response (repeating temporal response day-after-day) from high precipitation rates is shown. Enhanced Nd (ACI) perturbs the bulk cloud properties and suppresses low-to-moderate precipitation rates. Both ACI and ARI result in enhanced high-altitude ice clouds that have a strong positive longwave radiative effect. Changes to low-cloud coverage (ARI) and albedo (ACI) drive an overall negative shortwave radiative effect, that slowly increases in magnitude due to a moistening of the boundary layer. The overall net radiative effect is dominated by the enhanced high-altitude clouds, and is sensitive to the plume longevity. The considerable diurnal responses that we simulate cannot be observed by polar orbiting satellites widely used in previous work, highlighting the potential of geostationary satellites to observe large-scale impacts of aerosols on clouds.

An energetic view on the geographical dependence of the fast aerosol radiative effects on precipitation

Journal of Geophysical Research Wiley 126:9 (2021) e2020JD033045

Authors:

Guy Dagan, Philip Stier, Duncan Watson-Parris

Abstract:

By interacting with radiation, aerosols perturb the Earth’s energy budget and thus the global precipitation amount. It was previously shown that aerosols lead to a reduction in the global-mean precipitation amount. We have further demonstrated in aqua-planet simulations that the local response to absorbing aerosols differs between the tropics and the extra-tropics. In this study we incorporate an energy budget perspective to further examine the latitudinal dependence of the effect of aerosol-radiation interaction on precipitation in idealized global simulations. We demonstrate that the transition between a positive local precipitation response in the tropics and a negative local precipitation response in the extra-tropics occurs at relatively low latitudes (~10), indicating a transition between the deep-tropics (in which the Coriolis force is low, hence direct thermally-driven circulation, and associated divergence/convergence of energy/moisture, can form as a result of the diabatic-heating) and their surroundings. In addition, we gradually increase the level of complexity of the simulations and demonstrate that, in the case of absorbing aerosols, the effect of land is to counteract some of the response both inside and outside the deep-tropics due to the reduction in surface latent-heat flux that opposes the diabatic-heating. The effect of scattering aerosols is also examined and demonstrate a decrease in precipitation over land in both the tropics and extra-tropics and no effect over the ocean. Finally, we examine these results in a more realistic set-up and demonstrate that although the physical mechanisms still operate, they are unlikely to be significant enough to be discerned from natural-variability.