A search for large-scale effects of ship emissions on clouds and radiation in satellite data

Karsten Peters, Johannes Quaas, Grassi Hartmut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Ship tracks are regarded as the most obvious manifestations of the effect of anthropogenic aerosol particles on clouds (indirect effect). However, it is not yet fully quantified whether there are climatically relevant effects on large scales beyond the narrow ship tracks visible in selected satellite images. A combination of satellite and reanalysis data is used here to analyze regions in which major shipping lanes cut through otherwise pristine marine environments in subtropical and tropical oceans. We expect the region downwind of a shipping lane is affected by the aerosol produced by shipping emissions but not the one upwind. Thus, differences in microphysical and macrophysical cloud properties are analyzed statistically. We investigate microphysical and macrophysical cloud properties as well as the aerosol optical depth and its fine-mode fraction for the years 2005-2007 as provided for by retrievals of the two Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instruments. Water-cloud properties include cloud optical depth, cloud droplet effective radius, cloud top temperature, and cloud top pressure. Large-scale meteorological parameters are taken from ERA-Interim reanalysis data and microwave remote sensing (sea surface temperature). We analyze the regions of interest in a Eulerian and Lagrangian sense, i.e., sampling along shipping lanes and sampling along wind trajectories, respectively. No statistically significant impacts of shipping emissions on large-scale cloud fields could be found in any of the selected regions close to major shipping lanes. In conclusion, the net indirect effects of aerosols from ship emissions are not large enough to be distinguishable from the natural dynamics controlling cloud presence and formation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1 - 20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue numberD24205
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

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