Black carbon radiative heating effects on cloud microphysics and implications for the aerosol indirect effect. 1. Extended Köhler theory

William C Conant, Athanasios Nenes, John H. Seinfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

71 Scopus citations


Black carbon (BC) aerosol absorbs sunlight that might have otherwise been reflected to space and changes the radiative heating of the atmosphere and surface. These effects may alter the dynamical and hydrological processes governing cloud formation. A new, microphysical, effect of BC on climate is identified here, in which solar heating within BC-containing cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) slows or prevents the activation of these CCN into cloud drops. Solar-heated BC-containing droplets are elevated in temperature by fractions of a degree above the ambient, thus raising the droplet vapor pressure and inhibiting activation of the most absorptive CCN. This paper develops the theory describing the alteration of the Köhler curve (i.e., the equilibrium vapor pressure over a droplet as a function of water uptake) as a function of CCN size and BC fraction. The effect is most significant in those CCN that contain volumes of BC larger than a 500 nm diameter sphere. For an aerosol population with 10% BC mass fraction per particle, solar heating can cause a 10% reduction in the CCN concentration at 0.01% critical supersaturation. On the other hand, the effect of heating by BC absorption on CCN activation above ∼0.1% critical supersaturation is negligible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4604
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes



  • Black carbon
  • CCN
  • Cloud condensation nuclei
  • Droplet thermodynamics
  • Kohler theory
  • Soot

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Oceanography

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