In order to elucidate the effect of galactic cosmic rays on cloud formation, we investigate the optical response of marine aerosols to Forbush decreases - abrupt decreases in galactic cosmic rays - by means of modeling. We vary the nucleation rate of new aerosols, in a sectional coagulation and condensation model, according to changes in ionization by the Forbush decrease. From the resulting size distribution we then calculate the aerosol optical thickness and Angstrom exponent, for the wavelength pairs 350, 450 nm and 550, 900 nm. In the cases where the output parameters from the model seem to compare best with atmospheric observations we observe, for the shorter wavelength pair, a change in Angstrom exponent, following the Forbush Decrease, of -6 to +3%. In some cases we also observe a delay in the change of Angstrom exponent, compared to the maximum of the Forbush decrease, which is caused by different sensitivities of the probing wavelengths to changes in aerosol number concentration and size. For the long wavelengths these changes are generally smaller. The types and magnitude of change is investigated for a suite of nucleation rates, condensable gas production rates, and aerosol loss rates. Furthermore we compare the model output with observations of 5 of the largest Forbush decreases after year 2000. For the 350, 450 nm pair we use AERONET data and find a comparable change in signal while the Angstrom Exponent is lower in the model than in the data, due to AERONET being mainly sampled over land. For 550, 900 nm we compare with both AERONET and MODIS and find little to no response in both model and observations. In summary our study shows that the optical properties of aerosols show a distinct response to Forbush Decreases, assuming that the nucleation of fresh aerosols is driven by ions. Shorter wavelengths seem more favorable for observing these effects and great care should be taken when analyzing observations, in order to avoid the signal being drowned out by noise.
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 2010, Vol 10, Issue 6, p. 2765-2776