Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Publication Date
1 October 2012

Toward a Minimal Representation of Aerosols in Climate Models: Comparative Decomposition of Aerosol Direct, Semi-Direct and Indirect Radiative Forcing



The authors have decomposed the anthropogenic aerosol radiative forcing into direct contributions from each aerosol species to the planetary energy balance through absorption and scattering of solar radiation, indirect effects of anthropogenic aerosol on solar and infrared radiation through droplet and crystal nucleation on aerosol, and semidirect effects through the influence of solar absorption on the distribution of clouds. A three-mode representation of the aerosol in version 5.1 of the Community Atmosphere Model (CAM5.1) yields global annual mean radiative forcing estimates for each of these forcing mechanisms that are within 0.1 W m−2 of estimates using a more complex seven-mode representation that distinguishes between fresh and aged black carbon and primary organic matter. Simulating fresh black carbon particles separately from internally mixed accumulation mode particles is found to be important only near fossil fuel sources. In addition to the usual large indirect effect on solar radiation, this study finds an unexpectedly large positive longwave indirect effect (because of enhanced cirrus produced by homogenous nucleation of ice crystals on anthropogenic sulfate), small shortwave and longwave semidirect effects, and a small direct effect (because of cancelation and interactions of direct effects of black carbon and sulfate). Differences between the three-mode and seven-mode versions are significantly larger (up to 0.2 W m−2) when the hygroscopicity of primary organic matter is decreased from 0.1 to 0 and transfer of the primary carbonaceous aerosol to the accumulation mode in the seven-mode version requires more hygroscopic material coating the primary particles. Radiative forcing by cloudborne anthropogenic black carbon is only −0.07 W m−2.

“Toward A Minimal Representation Of Aerosols In Climate Models: Comparative Decomposition Of Aerosol Direct, Semi-Direct And Indirect Radiative Forcing”. 2012. Journal Of Climate 25: 6461-6476. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00650.1.
Funding Program Area(s)