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Microphysical and macrophysical responses of marine stratocumulus polluted by underlying ships




Christensen, Matthew Wells, author
Stephens, Graeme, advisor
Kummerow, Christian, committee member
van den Heever, Susan C., committee member
Reising, Steven, committee member

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Multiple sensors flying in the A-train constellation of satellites were used to determine the extent to which aerosol plumes from ships passing below marine stratocumulus alter the microphysical and macrophysical properties of the clouds. Aerosol plumes generated by ships sometimes influence cloud microphysical properties (effective radius) and, to a largely undetermined extent, cloud macrophysical properties (liquid water path, coverage, depth, precipitation, and longevity). Aerosol indirect effects were brought into focus, using observations from the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) and the 94-GHZ radar onboard CloudSat. To assess local cloud scale responses to aerosol, the locations of over one thousand ship tracks coinciding with the radar were meticulously logged by hand from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) imagery. MODIS imagery was used to distinguish ship tracks that were embedded in closed, open, and unclassifiable mesoscale cellular cloud structures. The impact of aerosol on the microphysical cloud properties in both the closed and open cell regimes were consistent with the changes predicted by the Twomey hypothesis. For the macrophysical changes, differences in the sign and magnitude of these properties were observed between cloud regimes. The results demonstrate that the spatial extent of rainfall (rain cover fraction) and intensity decrease in the clouds contaminated by the ship plume compared to the ambient pristine clouds. Although reductions of precipitation were common amongst the clouds with detectable rainfall (72% of cases), a substantial fraction of ship tracks (28% of cases) exhibited the opposite response. The sign and strength of the response was tied to the type of stratocumulus (e.g., closed vs open cells), depth of the boundary layer, and humidity in the free-troposphere. When closed cellular clouds were identified, liquid water path, drizzle rate, and rain cover fraction (an average relative decrease of 61%) was significantly smaller in the ship-contaminated clouds. Differences in drizzle rate resulted primarily from the reductions in rain cover fraction (i.e., fewer pixels were identified with rain in the clouds polluted by the ship). The opposite occurred in the open cell regime. Ship plumes ingested into this regime resulted in significantly deeper and brighter clouds with higher liquid water amounts and rain rates. Enhanced rain rates (average relative increase of 89%) were primarily due to the changes in intensity (i.e., rain rates on the 1.1 km pixel scale were higher in the ship contaminated clouds) and, to a lesser extent, rain cover fraction. One implication for these differences is that the local aerosol indirect radiative forcing was more than five times larger for ship tracks observed in the open cell regime (-59 W m-2) compared to those identified in the closed cell regime (-12 W m-2). The results presented here underline the need to consider the mesoscale structure of stratocumulus when examining the cloud dynamic response to changes in aerosol concentration. In the final part of the dissertation, the focus shifted to the climate scale to examine the impact of shipping on the Earth's radiation budget. Two studies were employed, in the first; changes to the radiative properties of boundary layer clouds (i.e., cloud top heights less than 3 km) were examined in response to the substantial decreases in ship traffic that resulted from the recent world economic recession in 2008. Differences in the annually averaged droplet effective radius and top of atmosphere outgoing shortwave radiative flux between 2007 and 2009 did not manifest as a clear response in the climate system and, was probably masked either due to competing aerosol cloud feedbacks or by interannual climate variability. In the second study, a method was developed to estimate the radiative forcing from shipping by convolving lanes of densely populated ships onto the global distributions of closed and open cell stratocumulus clouds. Closed cells were observed more than twice as often as open cells. Despite the smaller abundance of open cells, a significant portion of the radiative forcing from shipping was claimed by this regime. On the whole, the global radiative forcing from ship tracks was small (approximately -0.45 mW m-2) compared to the radiative forcing associated with the atmospheric buildup of anthropogenic CO2.


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aerosol indirect effect
ship tracks


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