Deep convective clouds (DCCs) are important to global climate, atmospheric chemistry, and precipitation. Dust, a dominant aerosol type over the tropical North Atlantic, has potentially large microphysical impacts on DCCs over this region. However, dust effects are difficult to identify, being confounded by co-varying meteorology and other factors. Here, a method is developed to quantify DCC responses to dust and other aerosols at large spatial and temporal scales despite these uncertainties. Over 7 million tropical North Atlantic cloud, aerosol, and meteorological profiles from CloudSat satellite data and MERRA-2 reanalysis products are used to stratify cloud observations into meteorological regimes, objectively select a priori assumptions, and iteratively test uncertainty sensitivity. Dust is robustly associated with a 54% increase in DCC prevalence. However, marine aerosol proxy concentrations are five times more predictive of dust-associated increases in DCC prevalence than the dust itself, or any other aerosol or meteorological factor. Marine aerosols are also the most predictive factor for the even larger increases in DCC prevalence (61-87%) associated with enhanced dimethyl sulfide and combustion and sulfate aerosols. Dust-associated increases in DCC prevalence are smaller at high dust concentrations than at low concentrations. These observations suggest that not only is dust a comparatively ineffective CCN source, but it may also act as a condensation/coagulation sink for chemical precursors to CCN, reducing total CCN availability over large spatial scales by inhibiting new particle formation from marine emissions. These observations represent the first time this process, previously predicted by models, is supported and quantified by measurements.
This article is included in the Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications version 2 (MERRA-2) special collection.