Observed correlations between aerosol and cloud properties in an Indian Ocean trade cumulus regime

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Kristina Pistone
  • Puppala S. Praveen
  • Veerabhadran Ramanathan
  • Eric Wilcox
  • Frida Bender

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • NASA Ames Research Center
  • International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
  • Scripps Insitution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego
  • Desert Research Insitution, Reno, NV
  • Stockholm Univ


There are many contributing factors which determine the micro- and macrophysical properties of clouds, including atmospheric vertical structure, dominant meteorological conditions, and aerosol concentration, all of which may be coupled to one another. In the quest to determine aerosol effects on clouds, these potential relationships must be understood. Here we describe several observed correlations between aerosol conditions and cloud and atmospheric properties in the Indian Ocean winter monsoon season. In the CARDEX (Cloud, Aerosol, Radiative forcing, Dynamics EXperiment) field campaign conducted in February and March 2012 in the northern Indian Ocean, continuous measurements were made of atmospheric precipitable water vapor (PWV) and the liquid water path (LWP) of trade cumulus clouds, concurrent with measurements of water vapor flux, cloud and aerosol vertical profiles, meteorological data, and surface and total-column aerosol from instrumentation at a ground observatory and on small unmanned aircraft. We present observations which indicate a positive correlation between aerosol and cloud LWP only when considering cases with low atmospheric water vapor (PWV  < 40 kg m−2), a criterion which acts to filter the data to control for the natural meteorological variability in the region. We then use the aircraft and ground-based measurements to explore possible mechanisms behind this observed aerosol–LWP correlation. The increase in cloud liquid water is found to coincide with a lowering of the cloud base, which is itself attributable to increased boundary layer humidity in polluted conditions. High pollution is found to correlate with both higher temperatures and higher humidity measured throughout the boundary layer. A large-scale analysis, using satellite observations and meteorological reanalysis, corroborates these covariations: high-pollution cases are shown to originate as a highly polluted boundary layer air mass approaching the observatory from a northwesterly direction. The source air mass exhibits both higher temperatures and higher humidity in the polluted cases. While the warmer temperatures may be attributable to aerosol absorption of solar radiation over the subcontinent, the factors responsible for the coincident high humidity are less evident: the high-aerosol conditions are observed to disperse with air mass evolution, along with a weakening of the high-temperature anomaly, while the high-humidity condition is observed to strengthen in magnitude as the polluted air mass moves over the ocean toward the site of the CARDEX observations. Potential causal mechanisms of the observed correlations, including meteorological or aerosol-induced factors, are explored, though future research will be needed for a more complete and quantitative understanding of the aerosol–humidity relationship.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5203
Number of pages5227
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2016


  • Cloud-aerosol, trade cumulus, Indian ocean, climate change, drones, UAV