Low-level clouds (LLC) cover a wide area of southern West Africa (SWA) during the summer monsoon months, and have an important cooling effect on the regional climate. Previous studies of these clouds have focused on modelling and remote sensing via satellite. We present the first comprehensive set of in situ measurements of cloud microphysics from the region, taken during June – July 2016, as part of the DACCIWA (Dynamics-Aerosol-Chemistry-Clouds Interactions in West Africa) campaign. This novel dataset allows us to assess spatial, diurnal, and day-to-day variation in the properties of these clouds over
LLC developed overnight and mean cloud cover peaked a few hundred kilometres inland around 10:00 local solar time (LST), before clouds began to dissipate and convection intensified in the afternoon. Regional variation in LLC cover was largely orographic, and no lasting impacts in cloud cover related to pollution plumes were observed downwind of major population centres.
The boundary layer cloud drop number concentration (CDNC) was locally variable inland, ranging from 200 to 840 cm-3 (10th and 90th percentiles at standard temperature and pressure), but showed no systematic regional variations. Enhancementswere seen in pollution plumes from the coastal cities, but were not statistically significant across the region. A significant
fraction of accumulation mode aerosols, and therefore cloud condensation nuclei, were from ubiquitous biomass burning smoke transported from the southern hemisphere.
To assess the relative importance of local and transported aerosol on the cloud field, we isolated the local contribution to the aerosol population by comparing inland and offshore size and composition measurements. A parcel model sensitivity analysis showed that doubling or halving local emissions only changed the calculated CDNC by 13 – 22%, as the high background meant local emissions were a small fraction of total aerosol. As the population of SWA grows, local emissions are expected to rise. Biomass burning smoke transported from the southern hemisphere is likely to dampen any effect of these increased local emissions on cloud-aerosol interactions. An integrative analysis between local pollution and Central African biomass burning emissions must be considered when predicting anthropogenic impacts on the regional cloud field during the West African summer monsoon.