Untangling aerosol effects on clouds and precipitation in a buffered system

Nature. 2009 Oct 1;461(7264):607-13. doi: 10.1038/nature08281.


It is thought that changes in the concentration of cloud-active aerosol can alter the precipitation efficiency of clouds, thereby changing cloud amount and, hence, the radiative forcing of the climate system. Despite decades of research, it has proved frustratingly difficult to establish climatically meaningful relationships among the aerosol, clouds and precipitation. As a result, the climatic effect of the aerosol remains controversial. We propose that the difficulty in untangling relationships among the aerosol, clouds and precipitation reflects the inadequacy of existing tools and methodologies and a failure to account for processes that buffer cloud and precipitation responses to aerosol perturbations.