Signatures of semi-direct radiative forcing by absorbing aerosols in satellite observations and models

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Eric M Wilcox1, Farnaz Hosseinpour1 and Peter Richard Colarco2, (1)Desert Research Institute Reno, Reno, NV, United States, (2)NASA GSFC, Greenbelt, MD, United States
Semi-direct radiative forcing of climate occurs when interactions between aerosols and radiative fluxes in the atmosphere yield a dynamical response in clouds. Semi-direct forcing is typically thought to be a positive radiative forcing whereby soot and biomass burning aerosols absorb sunlight and burn-off clouds. However, a negative semi-direct forcing is suspected in at least two regimes, the summertime Southeast Atlantic Ocean and the wintertime North Indian Ocean, where the heating profile by aerosol absorption by solar radiation is elevated above the elevation of the low clouds. Here we use a combination of satellite data and a model simulation to further characterize the signature of semi-direct radiative forcing in these two locations and elsewhere on the globe. We apply CERES albedos, Calipso profiles of aerosol extinction and cloud-top altitude, and a simulation with the Goddard Earth Observing System Model version 5 (GEOS-5) Earth system model with meteorology constrained by MERRA and an assimilation of MODIS AOT (MERRAero). to quantify the vertical heating profile by aerosols under clear and cloudy skies. We seek to determine: (1) where aerosol heating by soot and biomass burning aerosol is occurring; (2) where vertically in the column the heating is occurring relative to the observed level of low cloud development; and (3) whether the variations of albedo with aerosol forcing suggest a positive, negative, or inconclusive semi-direct radiative forcing.