Wet scavenging limits the detection of aerosol effects on precipitation

Edward Gryspeerdt, Philip Stier, B. A. White, Z. Kipling

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39 Citations (Scopus)


Satellite studies of aerosol-cloud interactions usually make use of retrievals of both aerosol and cloud properties, but these retrievals are rarely spatially co-located. While it is possible to retrieve aerosol properties above clouds under certain circumstances, aerosol properties are usually only retrieved in cloud-free scenes. Generally, the smaller spatial variability of aerosols compared to clouds reduces the importance of this sampling difference. However, as precipitation generates an increase in spatial variability of aerosols, the imperfect co-location of aerosol and cloud property retrievals may lead to changes in observed aerosol-cloud-precipitation relationships in precipitating environments. In this work, we use a regional-scale model, satellite observations and reanalysis data to investigate how the non-coincidence of aerosol, cloud and precipitation retrievals affects correlations between them. We show that the difference in the aerosol optical depth (AOD)-precipitation relationship between general circulation models (GCMs) and satellite observations can be explained by the wet scavenging of aerosol. Using observations of the development of precipitation from cloud regimes, we show how the influence of wet scavenging can obscure possible aerosol influences on precipitation from convective clouds. This obscuring of aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions by wet scavenging suggests that even if GCMs contained a perfect representation of aerosol influences on convective clouds, the difficulty of separating the "clear-sky" aerosol from the "all-sky" aerosol in GCMs may prevent them from reproducing the correlations seen in satellite data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7557-7570
Number of pages14
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes

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