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Keywords:

  • aerosols;
  • radiative transfer;
  • climate modelling;
  • dust particles;
  • non-sphericity

Abstract

Although mineral aerosol (dust) particles are irregular in shape, they are treated as homogeneous spheres in climate model radiative transfer calculations. Here, we test the effect of dust particle non-sphericity in the ECHAM5.5-HAM2 global aerosol–climate model. The short-wave optical properties of the two insoluble dust modes in HAM2 are modelled using an ensemble of spheroids that has been optimized to reproduce the optical properties of dust-like aerosols, thereby providing a significant improvement over spheres. First, the direct radiative effects (DRE) of dust non-sphericity were evaluated diagnostically, by comparing spheroids with both volume-equivalent and volume-to-area (V/A) equivalent spheres. In the volume-equivalent case, the short-wave DRE of insoluble dust at the surface and at the top of the atmosphere (TOA) was slightly smaller (typically by 3–4%) for spheroidal than for spherical dust particles. This rather small difference stems from compensating non-sphericity effects on the dust optical thickness and asymmetry parameter. In the V/A-equivalent case, the difference in optical thickness was virtually eliminated and the DRE at the TOA (surface) was ∼20% (∼13%) smaller for spheroids than for spheres, due to a larger asymmetry parameter. Even then, however, the global-mean DRE of non-sphericity was only 0.055 W m−2 at the TOA and 0.070 W m−2 at the surface. Subsequently, the effects of dust non-sphericity were tested interactively in simulations in which ECHAM5.5-HAM2 was coupled to a mixed-layer ocean model. Consistent with the rather small radiative effects noted above, the climatic differences from simulations with spherical dust optics were generally negligible.