Satellite and Model Assessment of Regional Aerosol Trends and Potential Impacts on Clouds in the western North Atlantic Ocean
Abstract:Aerosols and clouds contribute to atmospheric variability and to Earth’s radiative balance, and while aerosol-cloud interactions have been studied in the past, long-term assessments of their regional interactions are only beginning to be realized. Changes in emissions and air quality policies as well as socioeconomic factors ultimately lead to changes in AOD (aerosol optical depth) with cascading effects on clouds and ultimately on the combined radiative effects where agreement is yet to be seen.
In this work, an assessment of any trends observed in the aerosol loading over the western North Atlantic Ocean during the period of 2000 to 2012 is presented. Monthly mean data from NASA’s MODIS instruments onboard both Terra and Aqua satellites are employed. Two aerosol models (GOCART and MERRAero) with the capability to model five individual aerosol species are also used and can separate anthropogenic from natural contributions to the total aerosol load and the aerosol trend. Preliminary results show two distinct regions of opposite trend in the satellite AOD over the western North Atlantic. From analysis of the model trends, the trends in these two regions are also of different origin: the negative AOD trend (ranging from -0.020 to -0.040 per decade) seen just off the eastern coast of the U.S. is of anthropogenic origin while the positive AOD trend (ranging from 0.015 to 0.030 per decade) seen in the south of the domain is of natural origins. Compelling evidence from a ground-based aerosol record (AERONET) as well as EPA emissions records corroborates the anthropogenic origin of the negative trend off the eastern U.S. coast. Finally, any trends seen in the cloud effective radius are explored to examine the presence of the first indirect effect (Twomey effect). The analysis from Aqua appears stronger and more coherent, likely a testament to its calibration stability relative to Terra. Statistical significance tests are performed for the 90% and 95% levels using the Student’s t-test. This research can not only provided information for modeling and validation studies of aerosol trends but also act as an initial study into the long-term impacts of air quality improvement policies on the aerosol field, aerosol-cloud interactions, and the combined complex radiative effects.