Arctic climate sensitivity to local black carbon


  • Mark G. Flanner

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
    • Corresponding author: M. G. Flanner, 2455 Hayward St., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2143, USA. (

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[1] Recent attention has focused on the impact of black carbon (BC) on Arctic climate. Here, idealized equilibrium climate experiments are conducted to explore the dependence of Arctic temperature change on the altitude and season of local BC forcing. BC residing in the lowest atmospheric layer produces very strong Arctic warming per unit mass and forcing [ 2.8 ± 0.5 K (Wm − 2) − 1] because of low cloud and sea-ice feedbacks that amplify both summer and winter warming. BC operating only within Arctic snow and sea-ice also effectively warms the surface, but forcings at 400–750mbar and 210–250mbar cause weak surface warming and cooling, respectively, despite increasing atmospheric moist static energy. This is a consequence of stable atmospheric conditions in the Arctic limiting vertical mixing, and of higher-altitude BC reducing surface insolation, increasing stability and summer low-cloud cover, and decreasing poleward energy transport. The current simulated distribution of Arctic atmospheric BC slightly cools the surface, supporting an earlier study, while local atmospheric and cryosphere-deposited BC warms the Arctic with a sensitivity of + 0.5 ± 0.4 K  (Wm − 2) − 1. By season, April–May tropospheric BC induces the greatest mass-normalized Arctic warming [0.18 K (Gg yr)  − 1] because high insolation and surface albedo facilitate large specific forcing during this season. Forcing efficacy, however, increases with summer progression because of decreasing atmospheric stability, leading to a narrow range of mass-normalized response with season. Although limited by exclusion of aerosol indirect effects, changes in ocean heat transport and forcing by co-emitted species, these experiments show that Arctic climate response is sensitive to the vertical distribution and deposition efficiency of BC reaching the Arctic.