Substantial Cloud Brightening from Shipping in Subtropical Low Clouds

diamond, M. (2020), Substantial Cloud Brightening from Shipping in Subtropical Low Clouds, AGU Advances, doi:

The influence of aerosol particles on cloud reflectivity remains one of the largest sources of
uncertainty in our understanding of anthropogenic climate change. Commercial shipping constitutes a
large and concentrated aerosol perturbation in a meteorological regime where clouds have a
disproportionally large effect on climate. Yet, to date, studies have been unable to detect climatologically
relevant cloud radiative effects from shipping, despite models indicating that the cloud response should
produce a sizable negative radiative forcing (perturbation to Earth's energy balance). We attribute a
significant increase in cloud reflectivity to enhanced cloud droplet number concentrations within a major
shipping corridor in the southeast Atlantic. Prevailing winds constrain emissions around the corridor, which
cuts through a climatically important region of expansive low cloud cover. We use universal kriging, a
classic geostatistical method, to estimate what cloud properties would have been in the absence of shipping.
In the morning, cloud brightening is consistent with changes in microphysics alone, whereas in the
afternoon, increases in cloud brightness from microphysical changes are offset by decreases in the total
amount of cloud water. We calculate an effective radiative forcing within the southeast Atlantic shipping
corridor of approximately −2 W/m2. Several years of data are required to identify a clear signal.
Extrapolating our results globally, we calculate an effective radiative forcing due to aerosol‐cloud interactions in low clouds of −1.0 W/m2 (95% confidence interval: −1.6 to −0.4 W/m2). The unique setup in
the southeast Atlantic could be an ideal test for the representation of aerosol‐cloud interactions in
climate models.

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Research Program: 
Atmospheric Composition
Radiation Science Program (RSP)