The impact of aerosols on cloud properties is one of the largest uncertainties in the anthropogenic radiative forcing of the climate. Significant progress has been made in constraining this forcing using observations, but uncertainty remains, particularly in the magnitude of cloud rapid adjustments to aerosol perturbations. Cloud liquid water path (LWP) is the leading control on liquid-cloud albedo, making it important to observationally constrain the aerosol impact on LWP. Previous modelling and observational studies have shown that multiple processes play a role in determining the LWP response to aerosol perturbations, but that the aerosol effect can be difficult to isolate. Following previous studies using mediating variables, this work investigates use of the relationship between cloud droplet number concentration (Nd) and LWP for constraining the role of aerosols. Using joint-probability histograms to account for the non-linear relationship, this work finds a relationship that is broadly consistent with previous studies. There is significant geographical variation in the relationship, partly due to role of meteorological factors (particularly relative humidity). The Nd–LWP relationship is negative in the majority of regions, suggesting that aerosol-induced LWP reductions could offset a significant fraction of the instantaneous radiative forcing from aerosol–cloud interactions (RFaci). However, variations in the Nd–LWP relationship in response to volcanic and shipping aerosol perturbations indicate that the Nd–LWP relationship overestimates the causal Nd impact on LWP due to the role of confounding factors. The weaker LWP reduction implied by these “natural experiments” means that this work provides an upper bound to the radiative forcing from aerosol-induced changes in the LWP.
The number concentration of cloud particles is a key quantity for understanding aerosol–cloud interactions and describing clouds in climate and numerical weather prediction models. In contrast with recent advances for liquid clouds, few observational constraints exist regarding the ice crystal number concentration (Ni). This study investigates how combined lidar–radar measurements can be used to provide satellite estimates of Ni, using a methodology that constrains moments of a parameterized particle size distribution (PSD). The operational liDAR–raDAR (DARDAR) product serves as an existing base for this method, which focuses on ice clouds with temperatures Tc<-30 ∘C. Theoretical considerations demonstrate the capability for accurate retrievals of Ni, apart from a possible bias in the concentration in small crystals when Tc≳−50 ∘C, due to the assumption of a monomodal PSD shape in the current method. This is verified via a comparison of satellite estimates to coincident in situ measurements, which additionally demonstrates the sufficient sensitivity of lidar–radar observations to Ni. Following these results, satellite estimates of Ni are evaluated in the context of a case study and a preliminary climatological analysis based on 10 years of global data. Despite a lack of other large-scale references, this evaluation shows a reasonable physical consistency in Ni spatial distribution patterns. Notably, increases in Ni are found towards cold temperatures and, more significantly, in the presence of strong updrafts, such as those related to convective or orographic uplifts. Further evaluation and improvement of this method are necessary, although these results already constitute a first encouraging step towards large-scale observational constraints for Ni. Part 2 of this series uses this new dataset to examine the controls on Ni.