PerspectiveClimate

How do aerosols affect cloudiness?

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Science  08 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6427, pp. 580-581
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw3720

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Summary

Aerosols are tiny particles suspended in the atmosphere that originate from sources such as agricultural waste, forest fires, sea spray (see the photo), desert dust, and industrial pollution. They alter the energy balance of Earth's climate system through direct reflection and absorption of solar radiation as well as through modulating cloud properties by serving as nuclei for cloud particles. As a result of such aerosol-cloud interactions (1), cloud particle size tends to fall with increasing aerosol number concentration and rain formation is suppressed. However, it has been difficult to determine the overall cloud response to these interactions and the resulting climate effect. On page 599 of this issue, Rosenfeld et al. (2) report that the cloud response to the interaction is much larger than previously estimated (see the figure).