Observational evidence for aerosols increasing upper tropospheric humidity
Aerosol–cloud interactions are the largest source of uncertainty in the radiative forcing of the global climate. A phenomenon not included in the estimates of the total net forcing is the potential increase in upper tropospheric humidity (UTH) by anthropogenic aerosols via changes in the microphysics of deep convection. Using remote sensing data over the ocean east of China in summer, we show that increased aerosol loads are associated with an UTH increase of 2.2 ± 1.5 in units of relative humidity. We show that humidification of aerosols or other meteorological covariation is very unlikely to be the cause of this result, indicating relevance for the global climate. In tropical moist air such an UTH increase leads to a regional radiative effect of 0.5 ± 0.4 W m −2. We conclude that the effect of aerosols on UTH should be included in future studies of anthropogenic climate change and climate sensitivity.