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Published May 5, 2012 | Published
Journal Article Open

Importance of composition and hygroscopicity of BC particles to the effect of BC mitigation on cloud properties: Application to California conditions


Black carbon (BC) has many effects on climate including the direct effect on atmospheric absorption, indirect and semi-direct effects on clouds, snow effects, and others. While most of these are positive (warming), the first indirect effect is negative and quantifying its magnitude in addition to other BC feedbacks is important for supporting policies that mitigate BC. We use the detailed aerosol chemistry parcel model of Russell and Seinfeld (1998), observationally constrained by initial measured aerosol concentrations from five California sites, to provide simulated cloud drop number (CDN) concentrations against which two GCM calculations – one run at the global scale and one nested from the global-to-regional scale are compared. The GCM results reflect the combined effects of their emission inventories, advection schemes, and cloud parameterizations. BC-type particles contributed between 16 and 20% of cloud droplets at all sites even in the presence of more hygroscopic particles. While this chemically detailed parcel model result is based on simplified cloud dynamics and does not consider semi-direct or cloud absorption effects, the cloud drop number concentrations are similar to the simulations of both Chen et al. (2010b) and Jacobson (2010) for the average cloud conditions in California. Reducing BC particle concentration by 50% decreased the cloud droplet concentration by between 6% and 9% resulting in the formation of fewer, larger cloud droplets that correspond to a lower cloud albedo. This trend is similar to Chen et al. (2010b) and Jacobson (2010) when BC particles were modeled as hygroscopic. This reduction in CDN in California due to the decrease in activated BC particles supports the concern raised by Chen et al. (2010a) that the cloud albedo effect of BC particles has a cooling effect that partially offsets the direct forcing reduction if other warming effects of BC on clouds are unchanged. These results suggests that for regions like the California sites studied here, where BC mitigation targets fossil fuel sources, a critical aspect of the modeled reduction is the chemical composition and associated hygroscopicity of the BC particles removed as well as their relative contribution to the atmospheric particle concentrations.

Additional Information

© 2012 by the American Geophysical Union. Received 1 December 2011; revised 27 February 2012; accepted 22 March 2012; published 5 May 2012. This work was supported by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), under contract 09–337. The statements and conclusions in this paper are those of the researchers (contractor) and not necessarily those of CARB. The mention of commercial products, their source, or their use in connection with material reported herein is not to be construed as actual or implied endorsement of such products.

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