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Published September 2014 | Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Satellite-based estimate of global aerosol–cloud radiative forcing by marine warm clouds


Changes in aerosol concentrations affect cloud albedo and Earth's radiative balance. Aerosol radiative forcing from pre-industrial time to the present due to the effect of atmospheric aerosol levels on the micro- and macrophysics of clouds bears the largest uncertainty among external influences on climate change. Of all cloud forms, low-level marine clouds exert the largest impact on the planet's albedo. For example, a 6% increase in the albedo of global marine stratiform clouds could offset the warming that would result from a doubling of atmospheric CO_2 concentrations. Marine warm cloud properties are thought to depend on aerosol levels and large-scale dynamic or thermodynamic states. Here we present a comprehensive analysis of multiple measurements from the A-Train constellation of Earth-observing satellites, to quantify the radiative forcing exerted by aerosols interacting with marine clouds. Specifically, we analyse observations of co-located aerosols and clouds over the world's oceans for the period August 2006–April 2011, comprising over 7.3 million CloudSat single-layer marine warm cloud pixels. We find that thermodynamic conditions—that is, tropospheric stability and humidity in the free troposphere—and the state of precipitation act together to govern the cloud liquid water responses to the presence of aerosols and the strength of aerosol–cloud radiative forcing.

Additional Information

© 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited. Received 15 April 2014. Accepted 3 July 2014. Published online 3 August 2014. This work was supported by Office of Naval Research grant N00014-14-1-0097. Contributions: Y-C.C., M.W.C., G.L.S. and J.H.S. conceived the research; Y-C.C. and M.W.C. carried out the data analysis; Y-C.C., M.W.C., G.L.S. and J.H.S. wrote the paper. Competing financial interests: The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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