The roles of aerosol direct and indirect effects in past and future climate change

Hiram Levy, Larry W. Horowitz, M. Daniel Schwarzkopf, Yi Ming, Jean Christophe Golaz, Vaishali Naik, V. Ramaswamy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Using the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory's (GFDL's) fully coupled chemistry-climate (ocean/atmosphere/land/sea ice) model (CM3) with an explicit physical representation of aerosol indirect effects (cloud-water droplet activation), we find that the dramatic emission reductions (35%-80%) in anthropogenic aerosols and their precursors projected by Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 result in ~1 °C of additional warming and ~0.1 mm day-1 of additional precipitation, both globally averaged, by the end of the 21st century. The impact of these reductions in aerosol emissions on simulated global mean surface temperature and precipitation becomes apparent by mid-21st century. Furthermore, we find that the aerosol emission reductions cause precipitation to increase in East and South Asia by ~1.0 mm day-1 through the second half of the 21st century. Both the temperature and the precipitation responses simulated by CM3 are significantly stronger than the responses previously simulated by our earlier climate model (CM2.1) that only considered direct radiative forcing by aerosols. We conclude that the indirect effects of sulfate aerosol greatly enhance the impacts of aerosols on surface temperature in CM3; both direct and indirect effects from sulfate aerosols dominate the strong precipitation response, possibly with a small contribution from carbonaceous aerosols. Just as we found with the previous GFDL model, CM3 produces surface warming patterns that are uncorrelated with the spatial distribution of 21st century changes in aerosol loading. However, the largest precipitation increases in CM3 are colocated with the region of greatest aerosol decrease, in and downwind of Asia. Key Points Aerosol reductions (RCP4.5) cause 1K warming and +0.1 mm/day of precipitation.Sulfate indirect effects greatly enhance aerosol impacts on surface temperature.Aerosol reductions increase precipitation in Asia by 0.5-1.0 mm/day by 2100.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4521-4532
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 27 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Geophysics


  • aerosols
  • climate
  • climate change
  • climate model
  • indirect effect


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