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The Impact of Direct Aerosol Radiative Forcing on Surface Insolation and Spring Snowmelt in the Southern Sierra Nevada

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

To understand the regional impact of the atmospheric aerosols on the surface energy and water cycle in the southern Sierra Nevada characterized by extreme variations in terrain elevation, the authors examine the aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation and snowmelt for the spring of 1998 in a regional climate model experiment. With a prescribed aerosol optical thickness of 0.2, it is found that direct aerosol radiative forcing influences spring snowmelt primarily by reducing surface insolation and that these forcings on surface insolation and snowmelt vary strongly following terrain elevation. The direct aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation is negative in all elevations. It is nearly uniform in the regions below 2000 m and decreases with increasing elevation in the region above 2000 m. This elevation dependency in the direct aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation is related to the fact that the amount of cloud water and the frequency of cloud formation are nearly uniform in the lower elevation region, but increase with increasing elevation in the higher elevation region. This also suggests that clouds can effectively mask the direct aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation. The direct aerosol radiative forcing on snowmelt is notable only in the regions above 2000 m and is primarily via the reduction in the surface insolation by aerosols. The effect of this forcing on low-level air temperature is as large as −0.3°C, but its impact on snowmelt is small because the sensible heat flux change is much smaller than the insolation change. The direct aerosol radiative forcing on snowmelt is significant only when low-level temperature is near the freezing point, between −3° and 5°C. When low-level temperature is outside this range, the direct aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation has only a weak influence on snowmelt. The elevation dependency of the direct aerosol radiative forcing on snowmelt is related with this low-level temperature effect as the occurrence of the favored temperature range is most frequent in high elevation regions.

Corresponding author address: Jinwon Kim, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565. Email: jkim@atmos.ucla.edu

Abstract

To understand the regional impact of the atmospheric aerosols on the surface energy and water cycle in the southern Sierra Nevada characterized by extreme variations in terrain elevation, the authors examine the aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation and snowmelt for the spring of 1998 in a regional climate model experiment. With a prescribed aerosol optical thickness of 0.2, it is found that direct aerosol radiative forcing influences spring snowmelt primarily by reducing surface insolation and that these forcings on surface insolation and snowmelt vary strongly following terrain elevation. The direct aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation is negative in all elevations. It is nearly uniform in the regions below 2000 m and decreases with increasing elevation in the region above 2000 m. This elevation dependency in the direct aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation is related to the fact that the amount of cloud water and the frequency of cloud formation are nearly uniform in the lower elevation region, but increase with increasing elevation in the higher elevation region. This also suggests that clouds can effectively mask the direct aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation. The direct aerosol radiative forcing on snowmelt is notable only in the regions above 2000 m and is primarily via the reduction in the surface insolation by aerosols. The effect of this forcing on low-level air temperature is as large as −0.3°C, but its impact on snowmelt is small because the sensible heat flux change is much smaller than the insolation change. The direct aerosol radiative forcing on snowmelt is significant only when low-level temperature is near the freezing point, between −3° and 5°C. When low-level temperature is outside this range, the direct aerosol radiative forcing on surface insolation has only a weak influence on snowmelt. The elevation dependency of the direct aerosol radiative forcing on snowmelt is related with this low-level temperature effect as the occurrence of the favored temperature range is most frequent in high elevation regions.

Corresponding author address: Jinwon Kim, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565. Email: jkim@atmos.ucla.edu

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