Climatic Change

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 23–33

On the Regulation of Climate: A Sulfate Particle Feedback Loop Involving Deep Convection


  • G.E. Shaw
    • Geophysical InstituteUniversity of Alaska
  • R.L. Benner
    • Geophysical InstituteUniversity of Alaska
  • W. Cantrell
    • Geophysical InstituteUniversity of Alaska
  • A.D. Clarke
    • University of Hawaii at Manoa

DOI: 10.1023/A:1005341506115

Cite this article as:
Shaw, G., Benner, R., Cantrell, W. et al. Climatic Change (1998) 39: 23. doi:10.1023/A:1005341506115


We propose a climate stabilizing feedback loop involving biogenic sulfur. The mechanism is similar to the "CLAW" hypothesis (Charlson et al., 1987) but does not require the active participation of the ocean biota. The magnitude of the feedback response in this loop is derived by convective transport of biogenic sulfur over tropical oceans into the middle and high troposphere. Once aloft, the sulfur is oxidized into low-volatile species which nucleate new particles that later subside back into the subtropical marine boundary layer (MBL) and serve as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). The MBL clouds are susceptible to albedo modification by changes in CCN concentrations (Platnick and Twomey, 1995). We envision that as global temperatures rise the sea surface warms, convective mass transport of sulfur will rise and the increased mass of sulfur in the upper troposphere will lead to higher numbers of particles or a shift in the particle size distribution to larger sizes. In either case, there is an increase in the number of particles large enough to act as CCN in the air subsiding backinto the MBL. The increase in CCN increases the cloud albedo, decreases the solar input to the surface and the temperature decreases. More measurements are needed to confirm whether the magnitude of increased sulfur carried through the loop as a function of increased sea surface temperature is sufficient to close the loop and regulate the climate.

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998