Atmospheric aerosols cause scattering and absorption of incoming solar radiation. Additional anthropogenic aerosols released into the atmosphere thus exert a direct radiative forcing on the climate system1. The degree of present-day aerosol forcing is estimated from global models that incorporate a representation of the aerosol cycles1,2,3. Although the models are compared and validated against observations, these estimates remain uncertain. Previous satellite measurements of the direct effect of aerosols contained limited information about aerosol type, and were confined to oceans only4,5. Here we use state-of-the-art satellite-based measurements of aerosols6,7,8 and surface wind speed9 to estimate the clear-sky direct radiative forcing for 2002, incorporating measurements over land and ocean. We use a Monte Carlo approach to account for uncertainties in aerosol measurements and in the algorithm used. Probability density functions obtained for the direct radiative forcing at the top of the atmosphere give a clear-sky, global, annual average of -1.9 W m-2 with standard deviation, ± 0.3 W m-2. These results suggest that present-day direct radiative forcing is stronger than present model estimates, implying future atmospheric warming greater than is presently predicted, as aerosol emissions continue to decline10.
Global estimate of aerosol direct radiative forcing from satellite measurements