Increase of cloud droplet size with aerosol optical depth: An observation and modeling study Academic Article uri icon


  • Cloud droplet effective radius (DER) is generally negatively correlated with aerosol optical depth (AOD) as a proxy of cloud condensation nuclei. In this study, cases of positive correlation were found over certain portions of the world by analyzing the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite products, together with a general finding that DER may increase or decrease with aerosol loading depending on environmental conditions. The slope of the correlation between DER and AOD is driven primarily by water vapor amount, which explains 70% of the variance in our study. Various potential artifacts that may cause the positive relation are investigated including the effects of aerosol swelling, partially cloudy, atmospheric dynamics, cloud three-dimensional (3-D) and surface influence effects. None seems to be the primary cause for the observed phenomenon, although a certain degree of influence exists for some of the factors. Analyses are conducted over seven regions around the world representing different types of aerosols and clouds. Only two regions show positive dependence of DER on AOD, near coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and South China Sea, which implies physical processes may at work. Using a 2-D Goddard Cumulus Ensemble model (GCE) with spectral-bin microphysics which incorporated a reformulation of the Khler theory, two possible physical mechanisms are hypothesized. They are related to the effects of slightly soluble organics (SSO) particles and giant cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). Model simulations show a positive correlation between DER and AOD, due to a decrease in activated aerosols with an increasing SSO content. Addition of a few giant CCNs also increases the DER. Further investigations are needed to fully understand and clarify the observed phenomenon. Copyright 2008 by the American Geophysical Union.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Yuan, T., Li, Z., Zhang, R., & Fan, J.

citation count

  • 145

complete list of authors

  • Yuan, Tianle||Li, Zhanqing||Zhang, Renyi||Fan, Jiwen

publication date

  • February 2008