Earth's climate is thought to be quite sensitive to changes in radiative fluxes that are quite small in absolute magnitude, a few watts per square meter, and in relation to these fluxes in the natural climate. Atmospheric aerosol particles exert influence on climate directly, by scattering and absorbing radiation, and indirectly by modifying the microphysical properties of clouds and in turn their radiative effects and hydrology. The forcing of climate change by these indirect effects is thought to be quite substantial relative to forcing by incremental concentrations of greenhouse gases, but highly uncertain. Quantification of aerosol indirect forcing by satellite- or ground-based remote sensing has proved quite difficult in view of inherent large variation in the pertinent observables such as cloud optical depth, which is controlled mainly by liquid water path and only secondarily by aerosols. Limited work has shown instances of large magnitude of aerosol indirect forcing, with local instantaneous forcing upwards of 50 W m-2. Ultimately it will be necessary to represent aerosol indirect effects in climate models to accurately identify the anthropogenic forcing at present and over secular time and to assess the influence of this forcing in the context of other forcings of climate change. While the elements of aerosol processes that must be represented in models describing the evolution and properties of aerosol particles that serve as cloud condensation particles are known, many important components of these processes remain to be understood and to be represented in models, and the models evaluated against observation, before such model-based representations can confidently be used to represent aerosol indirect effects in climate models.
This page was last updated 2004-06-02.
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