The large-scale dynamical response of clouds to aerosol forcing

Brian Soden, Eui Seok Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Radiative kernels are used to quantify the instantaneous radiative forcing of aerosols and the aerosol-mediated cloud response in coupled ocean-atmosphere model simulations under both historical and future emission scenarios. The method is evaluated using matching pairs of historical climate change experiments with and without aerosol forcing and accurately captures the spatial pattern and global-mean effects of aerosol forcing. It is shown that aerosol-driven changes in the atmospheric circulation induce additional cloud changes. Thus, the total aerosol-mediated cloud response consists of both local microphysical changes and nonlocal dynamical changes that are driven by hemispheric asymmetries in aerosol forcing. By comparing coupled and fixed sea surface temperature (SST) simulations with identical aerosol forcing, the relative contributions of these two components are isolated, exploiting the ability of prescribed SSTs to also suppress changes in the atmospheric circulation. The radiative impact of the dynamical cloud changes is found to be comparable in magnitude to that of the microphysical cloud changes and acts to further amplify the interhemispheric asymmetry of the aerosol radiative forcing. The dynamical cloud response is closely linked to the meridional displacement of the Hadley cell, which, in turn, is driven by changes in the cross-equatorial energy transport. In this way, the dynamical cloud changes act as a positive feedback on the meridional displacement of the Hadley cell, roughly doubling the projected changes in cross-equatorial energy transport compared to that from the microphysical changes alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8783-8794
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Aerosols
  • Climate change
  • Clouds
  • Feedback

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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