Nonlinear climate and hydrological responses to aerosol effects

Yi Ming, V. Ramaswamy

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119 Scopus citations


The equilibrium temperature and hydrological responses to the total aerosol effects (i.e., direct, semidirect, and indirect effects) are studied using a modified version of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory atmosphere general circulation model (AM2.1) coupled to a mixed layer ocean model. The treatment of aerosol-liquid cloud interactions and associated indirect effects is based upon a prognostic scheme of cloud droplet number concentration, with an explicit representation of cloud condensation nuclei activation involving sulfate, organic carbon, and sea salt aerosols. Increasing aerosols from preindustrial (1860) to present-day (1990) levels leads to a decrease of 1.9 K in the global annual mean surface temperature. The cooling is relatively strong over the Northern Hemisphere midlatitude land owing to the high aerosol burden there, while being amplified at high latitudes. When being subject to aerosols and radiatively active gases (i.e., well-mixed greenhouse gases and ozone) simultaneously, the model climate behaves nonlinearly; the simulated increase in surface temperature (0.55 K) is considerably less than the arithmetic sum of separate aerosol and gas effects (0.86 K). The thermal responses are accompanied by the nonlinear changes in cloud fields, which are amplified owing to the surface albedo feedback at high latitudes. The two effects completely offset each other in the Northern Hemisphere, while gas effect is dominant in the Southern Hemisphere. Both factors are crucial in shaping the regional responses. Interhemispheric asymmetry in aerosol-induced cooling yields a southward shift of the intertropical convergence zone, thus giving rise to a significant reduction in precipitation north of the equator, and an increase to the south. The simulations show that the change of precipitation in response to the simultaneous increases in aerosols and gases not only largely follows the same pattern as that for aerosols alone, but that it is also substantially strengthened in terms of magnitude south of 10°N. This is quite different from the damping expected from adding up individual responses, and further indicates the nonlinearity in the model's hydrological response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1329-1339
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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