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Mapping the uncertainty in global CCN using emulation

by L A Lee, K S Carslaw, K J Pringle, G W Mann
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics ()


In the last two IPCC assessments aerosol radiative forcings have been given the largest uncertainty range of all forcing agents assessed. This forcing range is really a diversity of simulated forcings in different models. An essential step towards reducing model uncertainty is to quantify and attribute the sources of uncertainty at the process level. Here, we use statistical emulation techniques to quantify uncertainty in simulated concentrations of July-mean cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) from a complex global aerosol microphysics model. CCN was chosen because it is the aerosol property that controls cloud drop concentrations, and therefore the aerosol indirect radiative forcing effect. We use Gaussian process emulation to perform a full variance-based sensitivity analysis and quantify, for each model grid box, the uncertainty in simulated CCN that results from 8 uncertain model parameters. We produce global maps of absolute and relative CCN sensitivities to the 8 model parameter ranges and derive probability density functions for simulated CCN. The approach also allows us to include the uncertainty from interactions between these parameters, which cannot be quantified in traditional one-at-a-time sensitivity tests. The key findings from our analysis are that model CCN in polluted regions and the Southern Ocean are mostly only sensitive to uncertainties in emissions parameters but in all other regions CCN uncertainty is driven almost exclusively by uncertainties in parameters associated with model processes. For example, in marine regions between 30 degrees S and 30 degrees N model CCN uncertainty is driven mainly by parameters associated with cloud-processing of Aitken-sized particles whereas in polar regions uncertainties in scavenging parameters dominate. In these two regions a single parameter dominates but in other regions up to 50% of the variance can be due to interaction effects between different parameters. Our analysis provides direct quantification of the reduction in variance that would result if a parameter could be specified precisely. When extended to all process parameters the approach presented here will therefore provide a clear global picture of how improved knowledge of aerosol processes would translate into reduced model uncertainty.

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