Detection of large-scale cloud microphysical changes within a major shipping corridor after implementation of the International Maritime Organization 2020 fuel sulfur regulations

Michael Diamond

Sep. 26, 2023

11:00 am – 12:00 pm MDT


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New regulations from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) limiting sulfur emissions from the shipping industry are expected to have large benefits in terms of public health but may come with an undesired side effect: acceleration of global warming as the climate-cooling effects of ship pollution on marine clouds are diminished. Previous work has found a substantial decrease in the detection of ship tracks in clouds after the IMO 2020 regulations went into effect, but changes in large-scale cloud properties have been more equivocal. Using a statistical technique that estimates counterfactual fields of what large-scale cloud and radiative properties within an isolated shipping corridor in the southeastern Atlantic would have been in the absence of shipping, we confidently detect a reduction in the magnitude of cloud droplet effective radius decreases within the shipping corridor and find evidence for a reduction in the magnitude of cloud brightening as well. The instantaneous radiative forcing due to aerosol–cloud interactions from the IMO 2020 regulations is estimated to be of order 1 W m−2 within the shipping corridor, lending credence to global estimates of order 0.1 W m−2 from climate models. Although the contribution to warming since 2020 is expected to be small globally, the effects may be much larger regionally in the north Atlantic and Pacific. In addition to their geophysical significance, our results also provide independent evidence for general compliance with the IMO 2020 regulations.

Michael Diamond

Florida State University