The impact of modern black carbon aerosols on climate via their changes in radiative balance is studied using a coupled model where sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are allowed to vary and an atmosphere-only version of the same model where SSTs are held fixed. Allowing the ocean to respond is shown to have a profound impact on the pattern of temperature change. Particularly, large impacts are found in the North Pacific (which cools by up to 1 K in the coupled model) and in north central Asia (which warms in the coupled simulation and cools in the fixed SST simulation). Neither set of experiments shows large changes in surface temperatures in the Southeast Asian region where the atmospheric burden of black carbon is highest. These results are related to the stabilization of the atmosphere and changes in oceanic heat transport. Over the North Pacific, atmospheric stabilization results in an increase in stratiform clouds. The resulting shading reduces evaporation, freshening the surface layer of the ocean and reducing the inflow of warm subtropical waters. Over the land, a delicate balance between greater atmospheric absorption, shading of the surface and changes in latent cooling of the surface helps to determine whether warming or cooling is seen. Our results emphasize the importance of coupling in determining the response of the climate system to black carbon and suggest that black carbon may play an important role in modulating climate change over the North Pacific.
- Black carbon