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Published May 24, 2016 | Published + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Improving our fundamental understanding of the role of aerosol−cloud interactions in the climate system


The effect of an increase in atmospheric aerosol concentrations on the distribution and radiative properties of Earth's clouds is the most uncertain component of the overall global radiative forcing from preindustrial time. General circulation models (GCMs) are the tool for predicting future climate, but the treatment of aerosols, clouds, and aerosol−cloud radiative effects carries large uncertainties that directly affect GCM predictions, such as climate sensitivity. Predictions are hampered by the large range of scales of interaction between various components that need to be captured. Observation systems (remote sensing, in situ) are increasingly being used to constrain predictions, but significant challenges exist, to some extent because of the large range of scales and the fact that the various measuring systems tend to address different scales. Fine-scale models represent clouds, aerosols, and aerosol−cloud interactions with high fidelity but do not include interactions with the larger scale and are therefore limited from a climatic point of view. We suggest strategies for improving estimates of aerosol−cloud relationships in climate models, for new remote sensing and in situ measurements, and for quantifying and reducing model uncertainty.

Additional Information

© 2016 National Academy of Sciences. The authors acknowledge Dr. Kristina Pistone for taking meticulous notes during the Colloquium. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is operated for the US Department of Energy (DOE) by Battelle Memorial Institute under Contract DE-AC06-76RLO 1830. Work at PNNL was supported by the US DOE Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction using Earth System Models program and by the US DOE Earth System Modeling program. Author contributions: J.H.S., C.B., K.S.C., H.C., P.J.D., E.J.D., G.F., S.G., A.B.G., R.K., I.K., S.M.K., M.J.M., A.N., J.E.P., K.A.P., V. Ramanathan, V. Ramaswamy, P.J.R., A.R.R., D.R., G.S., and R.W. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This paper results from the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences, "Improving Our Fundamental Understanding of the Role of Aerosol–Cloud Interactions in the Climate System," held June 23−24, 2015, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in Irvine, CA. The complete program and video recordings of most presentations are available on the NAS website at www.nasonline.org/Aerosol_Cloud_Interactions. This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1514043113/-/DCSupplemental.

Attached Files

Published - PNAS-2016-Seinfeld-5781-90.pdf

Supplemental Material - pnas.201514043SI.pdf


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