Investigating Aerosol Effects on Clouds, Precipitation and Regional Climate in US and China by Means of Ground-based and Satellite Observations and a Global Climate Model
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Aerosols affect climate by scattering/absorbing radiation and by acting as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) or ice nuclei (IN). One of the least understood but most significant aspects of climate change is the aerosol effect on cloud and precipitation. A hypothesis has recently been proposed that, in addition to reducing cloud effective radius and suppressing precipitation, aerosols may also modify the thermodynamic structure of deep convective clouds and lead to enhanced precipitation when complex thermodynamic processes are involved. Taking advantage of the long-term and extensive ground-based observations at the US Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Southern Great Plains (SGP) site, we thoroughly tested such a hypothesis and provide direct evidence of it. Moreover, the hypothesis is also supported by analysis of satellite-based observations over tropical regions from multiple sensors in the A-Train satellites constellation. Extensive analyses of the long-term ground-based and large-scale data reveal significant increases in rain rate or frequency and cloud top heights with increasing aerosol loading for mix-phase deep convective clouds, decreases rain frequency for low liquid clouds, but little impact on cloud height for liquid clouds. Rigorous tests are conducted to investigate any potential artifacts and influences of meteorological conditions. Large-scale circulation patterns and monsoon systems can be changed by scattering and absorption of solar radiation by aerosols. By means of model simulations with the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate Model (NCAR/CCM3), we found that the increase of aerosol loading in China contributes to circulation changes, leading to more frequent occurrence of fog events in winter as observed from meteorological records. The increase in atmospheric aerosols over China heats the atmosphere and generates a cyclonic circulation anomaly over eastern-central China. This circulation anomaly leads to a reduction in the influx of dry and cold air over that area during winter. Weakening of the East Asian winter monsoon system may also contribute to these changes. All these changes favor the formation and maintenance of fog over this region. The MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aerosol products used in the above studies are validated using ground-based measurements from the Chinese Sun Hazemeter Network (CSHNET). Overall, substantial improvement was found in the current version of aerosol products relative to the previous one. At individual sites, the improvement varies with surface and atmospheric conditions.