Climate Dynamics

, Volume 36, Issue 9, pp 1959-1978

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The impact of natural versus anthropogenic aerosols on atmospheric circulation in the Community Atmosphere Model

  • Robert J. AllenAffiliated withDepartment of Earth System Science, University of California Irvine Email author 
  • , Steven C. SherwoodAffiliated withClimate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales


The equilibrium response of atmospheric circulation to the direct radiative effects of natural or anthropogenic aerosols is investigated using the Community Atmosphere Model (CAM3) coupled to two different ocean boundary conditions: prescribed climatological sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and a slab ocean model. Anthropogenic and natural aerosols significantly affect the circulation but in nearly opposite ways, because anthropogenic aerosols tend to have a net local warming effect and natural aerosols a net cooling. Aerosol forcings shift the Intertropical Convergence Zone and alter the strength of the Hadley circulation as found in previous studies, but also affect the Hadley cell width. These effects are due to meridional gradients in warming caused by heterogeneous net heating, and are stronger with interactive SST. Aerosols also drive model responses at high latitudes, including polar near-surface warming by anthropogenic aerosols in summer and an Arctic Oscillation (AO)-type responses in winter: anthropogenic aerosols strengthen wintertime zonal wind near 60°N, weaken it near 30°N, warm the troposphere, cool the stratosphere, and reduce Arctic surface pressure, while natural aerosols produce nearly opposite changes. These responses are shown to be due to modulation of stratospheric wave-driving consistent with meridional forcing gradients in midlatitudes. They are more pronounced when SST is fixed, apparently because the contrast in land-ocean heating drives a predominantly wavenumber-2 response in the northern hemisphere which is more efficient in reaching the stratosphere, showing that zonal heating variations also affect this particular response. The results suggest that recent shifts from reflecting to absorbing aerosol types probably contributed to the observed decadal variations in tropical width and AO, although studies with more realistic temporal variations in forcing would be needed to quantify this contribution.


Arctic Oscillation Aerosol Hadley cell Atmospheric circulation