More aerosols, means more clouds, which means cooler temperatures. Now that we are cleaning up aerosols worldwide, this may explain why the Earth is getting slightly warmer – more sunlight reaches the surface
A paper published today in Science claims the transition from “pristine” to “slightly polluted” atmosphere at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 18th century had a “dramatic aerosol effect [of increasing] clouds” over the oceans. According to the authors,
“transition from pristine to slightly polluted atmosphere yields estimated negative forcing of ~15 watts per square meter (cooling), suggesting that a substantial part of this anthropogenic forcing over the oceans occurred at the beginning of the industrial era, when the marine atmosphere experienced such transformation.”
By way of comparison, the IPCC alleged change in radiative forcing from CO2 [plus alleged positive water vapor feedback] since the beginning of the industrial era is +1.8 watts per square meter*, or 8.3 times less. According to an accompanying editorial to the paper, the authors “show that even small additions of aerosol particles to clouds in the cleanest regions of Earth’s atmosphere will have a large effect on those clouds and their contribution to climate forcing.”
*Per the IPCC formula: 5.35*ln(395/280) = 1.8 W/m2 at the top of the atmosphere [or only about 1.8* (1/3.7) = 0.5 W/m2 at the surface]
h/t to The Hockey Schtick
Smith et al. in 2004 finds that sulfur based aerosols, the kind that also get emitted from volcanoes, have been increasing since 1850, but have recently leveled off since about 1975…about the time that the US Clean Air Act really started kicking in (from updates in 1970) and other industrialized countries followed suit.
From “Just Add Aerosols“: Science 6 June 2014: Vol. 344 no. 6188 p. 1089 DOI: 10.1126/science.1255398
The more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the stronger the climate warming that results. Likewise, the more aerosol particles suspended in the atmosphere, the greater the ability of these particles either to scatter sunlight back to space and cool the planet or to absorb sunlight in the atmosphere, thereby warming the atmosphere while cooling Earth’s surface. However, not all such climate forcing processes depend linearly on the concentrations of their forcing agent. The climatic effects of aerosols are complicated by their interactions with clouds (1). On page 1143 of this issue, Koren et al. (2) show that even small additions of aerosol particles to clouds in the cleanest regions of Earth’s atmosphere will have a large effect on those clouds and their contribution to climate forcing.
From aerosol-limited to invigoration of warm convective clouds
Among all cloud-aerosol interactions, the invigoration effect is the most elusive. Most of the studies that do suggest this effect link it to deep convective clouds with a warm base and cold top. Here, we provide evidence from observations and numerical modeling of a dramatic aerosol effect on warm clouds. We propose that convective-cloud invigoration by aerosols can be viewed as an extension of the concept of aerosol-limited clouds, where cloud development is limited by the availability of cloud-condensation nuclei. A transition from pristine to slightly polluted atmosphere yields estimated negative forcing of ~15 watts per square meter (cooling), suggesting that a substantial part of this anthropogenic forcing over the oceans occurred at the beginning of the industrial era, when the marine atmosphere experienced such transformation.
Editors summary: Invigorating convection in warm clouds
Atmospheric aerosols—tiny airborne particles—affect the way clouds form and how they affect climate. Koren et al. investigated how the formation of warm clouds, such as those that form over the oceans, depends on pollution levels (see the Perspective by Remer). Aerosols affect cloud formation in cleaner air disproportionately more than in more polluted air. Before the widespread air pollution of the industrial era, it seems, warm convective clouds may have covered much less of the oceans than they do today.