The radiative forcing from aerosols (particularly through their interaction with clouds) remains one of the most uncertain components of the human forcing of the climate. Observation-based studies have typically found a smaller aerosol effective radiative forcing than in model simulations and were given preferential weighting in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). With their own sources of uncertainty, it is not clear that observation-based estimates are more reliable. Understanding the source of the model and observational differences is thus vital to reduce uncertainty in the impact of aerosols on the climate. These reported discrepancies arise from the different methods of separating the components of aerosol forcing used in model and observational studies. Applying the observational decomposition to global climate model (GCM) output, the two different lines of evidence are surprisingly similar, with a much better agreement on the magnitude of aerosol impacts on cloud properties. Cloud adjustments remain a significant source of uncertainty, particularly for ice clouds. However, they are consistent with the uncertainty from observation-based methods, with the liquid water path adjustment usually enhancing the Twomey effect by less than 50%. Depending on different sets of assumptions, this work suggests that model and observation-based estimates could be more equally weighted in future synthesis studies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science