Sunlight-absorbing aerosol amplifies the seasonal cycle in low cloud fraction...

Zhang, J., and P. Zuidema (2021), Sunlight-absorbing aerosol amplifies the seasonal cycle in low cloud fraction over the southeast Atlantic, Atmos. Chem. Phys., doi:10.5194/acp-2021-275.

Many studies examining shortwave-absorbing aerosol-cloud interactions over the southeast Atlantic apply a seasonal averaging. This disregards a meteorology that raises the mean altitude of the smoke layer from July to October. This study details the month-by-month changes in cloud properties and the large-scale environment as a function of the biomass-burning aerosol loading at Ascension Island from July to October, based on measurements from Ascension Island (8 S, 14.5 W),satellite retrievals and reanalysis. In July and August, variability in the smoke loading predominantly occurs in the boundary layer. During both mo nths, the low-cloud fraction is less and is increasingly cumuliform when more smoke is present, with the exception of a late morning boundary layer deepening that encourages a short-lived cloud development. The meteorology varies little, suggesting aerosol-cloud interactions consistent with a boundary-layer semi-direct effect can explain the cloudiness changes. September marks a transition month during which mid-latitude disturbances can intrude into the Atlantic subtropics, constraining the land-based anticyclonic circulation transporting free-tropospheric aerosol to closer to the coast. Stronger boundary layer winds help deepen, dry, and cool the boundary layer near the main stratocumulus deck compared to that on days with high smoke loadings, with stratocumulus reducing everywhere but at the northern deck edge. Longwave cooling rates generated by a sharp water vapor gradient at the aerosol layer top facilitates small-scale vertical mixing, and could help to maintain a better-mixed September free troposphere. The October meteorology is more singularly dependent on the strength of the free-tropospheric winds advecting aerosol offshore. Free-tropospheric aerosol is less, and moisture variability more, compared to September. Low-level clouds increase and are more stratiform, when the smoke loadings are higher. The increased free-tropospheric moisture can help sustain the clouds through reducing evaporative drying during cloud-top entrainment. Enhanced subsidence above the coastal upwelling region increasing cloud droplet number concentrations may further prolong cloud lifetime through microphysical interactions. Reduced subsidence underneath stronger free-tropospheric winds at Ascension supports slightly higher cloud tops during smokier conditions. Overall the monthly changes in the largescale aerosol and moisture vertical structure act to amplify the seasonal cycle in low-cloud amount and morphology, raising a climate importance as cloudiness changes dominate changes in the top-of-atmosphere radiation budget.

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Research Program: 
Atmospheric Composition
Radiation Science Program (RSP)