The aerosol-Bénard cell effect on marine stratocumulus clouds and its contribution to glacial-interglacial cycles

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Aerosol-cloud interactions, such as aerosol loading in convective clouds resulting in either precipitation suppression or cloud invigoration, in higher cloud tops, and in longer-lived clouds, are well known. Here we investigate a new aerosol-cloud interaction, the effect of aerosol loading on Bénard cells, on the stratocumulus cloud fraction, and ultimately on the climate over glacial-interglacial cycles, using a two-dimensional model running a million year continuous simulation. This radiative effect is observed only in marine boundary layer stratocumulus clouds that have a convective cellular structure. Recent research suggests that aerosols can switch the direction of convection in Bénard cells (from open cells to closed cells) by suppressing precipitation and therefore dramatically change the cloud fraction. The effect investigated in this work differs from previously known aerosol effects on convective clouds by its intensity and magnitude and has never been taken into account in past climate simulations. The results show that accounting for the aerosol-Bénard cell effect alone contributes a negative radiative forcing, affecting both the Northern Hemisphere mean annual surface temperature and ice volume. Adding the aerosol-Bénard cell effect to the direct radiative effect of dust and to the effect of dust on snow and ice albedo shows that the aerosol-Bénard cell effect plays a significant role in glacial-interglacial climate change, strengthening the earlier glacial cycles and creating a larger glacial-interglacial surface temperature amplitude while preserving the continental ice volume amplitude. Because of the model limitations, there are a number of uncertainties involved. However, the results serve to give a preliminary evaluation of the aerosol-Bénard cell effect at least qualitatively if not quantitatively.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberD10119
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2011


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