Dominant role of mineral dust in cirrus cloud formation revealed by...

Froyd, K., P. Yu, G. Schill, C. Brock, A. Straus, C. Williamson, E. Jensen, E. Ray, K. Rosenlof, H. Bian, A. S. Darmenov, P. R. Colarco, G. S. Diskin, T. P. Bui, and D. Murphy (2022), Dominant role of mineral dust in cirrus cloud formation revealed by global-scale measurements, Nat. Geosci., 15, 177-183, doi:10.1038/s41561-022-00901-w.

Airborne mineral dust particles can act as natural seeds for cirrus clouds in the upper troposphere. However, the atmospheric abundance of dust is unconstrained in cirrus-forming regions, hampering our ability to predict these radiatively important clouds. Here we present global-scale measurements of dust aerosol abundance in the upper troposphere and incorporate these into a detailed cirrus-formation model. We show that dust aerosol initiates cirrus clouds throughout the extra-tropics in all seasons and dominates cirrus formation in the Northern Hemisphere (75–93% of clouds seasonally). Using a global transport model with improved dust treatment, we also explore which of Earth’s deserts are the largest contributors of dust aerosol to cirrus-forming regions. We find that the meteorological environment downstream of each emission region modulates dust atmospheric lifetime and transport efficiency to the upper troposphere so that source contributions are disproportionate to emissions. Our findings establish the critical role of dust in Earth’s climate system through the formation of cirrus clouds.

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Tropospheric Composition Program (TCP)