Using uncertainty-aware machine learning models to study aerosol-cloud interactions (Papers Track)
Maëlys Solal (University of Oxford); Andrew Jesson (University of Oxford); Yarin Gal (University of Oxford); Alyson Douglas (University of Oxford)
Aerosol-cloud interactions (ACI) include various effects that result from aerosols entering a cloud, and affecting cloud properties. In general, an increase in aerosol concentration results in smaller droplet sizes which leads to larger, brighter, longer-lasting clouds that reflect more sunlight and cool the Earth. The strength of the effect is however heterogeneous, meaning it depends on the surrounding environment, making ACI one of the most uncertain effects in our current climate models. In our work, we use causal machine learning to estimate ACI from satellite observations by reframing the problem as a treatment (aerosol) and outcome (change in droplet radius). We predict the causal effect of aerosol on clouds with uncertainty bounds depending on the unknown factors that may be influencing the impact of aerosol. Of the three climate models evaluated, we find that only one plausibly recreates the trend, lending more credence to its estimate cooling due to ACI.