Altitude variations of cosmic ray induced production of aerosols: Implications for global cloudiness and climate


Fangqun Yu


Atmospheric Sciences Research Center

State University of New York, Albany, New York


(J. Geophys. Res., 107(A7), 10.1029/2001JA000248, 2002)



Abstract. The indirect radiative forcing of atmospheric aerosols is sensitive to particle size and concentration, which are influenced significantly by nucleation processes. Via its role in aerosol formation, cosmic ray may affect the cloud condensation nuclei abundance, and hence the global cloud properties and climate. Systematic variations in ionization rates due to the modulation of cosmic ray radiation by the solar cycle are sufficient to cause notable variations in aerosol production, and we find that the signs of such variations are altitude-dependent. Our study indicates that an increase in cosmic ray fluxes generally leads to an increase in particle production in the lower troposphere but a decrease in particle production in the upper troposphere. The main reason of such an altitude-dependent influence is that the dependence of particle production rate on ionization rate is a complex function of ionization rate itself, as well as precursor gas concentration and ambient conditions. The implications of altitude variations of cosmic ray-induced aerosol production on global cloudiness and climate are discussed. In addition to the reported positive correlation between cosmic ray variations and low cloudiness, our analysis reveals that high cloudiness may be anti-correlated with cosmic ray variations if volcano and El Niņo impacts are excluded. The observed different correlations between cosmic ray variations and low, middle and high cloud anomalies appear to be consistent with the predicted different sensitivities of particle production to cosmic ray changes at different altitudes. A systematic change in global cloudiness may change the atmosphere heating profile, and if confirmed, may provide the external forcing needed to reconcile the different surface and troposphere temperature trends. Much more work is needed to understand how and how much the cosmic ray variations will affect the global cloud properties and climate.