Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Air Pollution a Culprit in Worsening Drought and Flooding

15.11.2011
Increases in aerosols can affect cloud development

Increases in air pollution and other particulate matter in the atmosphere can strongly affect cloud development in ways that reduce precipitation in dry regions or seasons.


A radar image of clouds; data from a decade of time played an important role in the results. Credit: ARM Climate Research Facility

This while increasing rain, snowfall and the intensity of severe storms in wet regions or seasons, according to results of a new study.

The research provides the first clear evidence of how aerosols--soot, dust and other particulates in the atmosphere--may affect weather and climate.

The findings have important implications for the availability, management and use of water resources in regions across the United States and around the world.

"Using a 10-year dataset of atmospheric measurements, we have uncovered the long-term, net impact of aerosols on cloud height and thickness and the resulting changes in precipitation frequency and intensity," says Zhanqing Li, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Maryland and lead author of a paper reporting the results.

The paper was published today in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Co-authors are Feng Niu and Yanni Ding, also of the University of Maryland; Jiwen Fan of the U.S. Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Yangang Liu of the U.S. Department of Energy Brookhaven National Laboratory; and Daniel Rosenfeld of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"Aerosols' effects on cloud and precipitation development are key questions for scientific community," says Chungu Lu, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research.

"The question is not only important for our understanding of the effects of natural processes and human activities on climate change, but for addressing issues in air pollution, disaster relief, water resource management and human weather modification."

In addition to the scope and timeframe of the research team's observations, the scientists matched their findings with results from a cloud-resolving computer model.

"Understanding interactions among clouds, aerosols and precipitation is one of the grand challenges for climate research in the decade ahead," says Tony Busalacchi, a scientist at the University of Maryland and chair of the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Program.

"Findings from this study are a significant advance in our understanding of such processes, with implications for both climate science and sustainable development," says Busalacchi.

"We have known for a long time that aerosols impact both the heating and phase changes [such as condensing and freezing] of clouds, and that they can either inhibit or intensify clouds and precipitation," says Russell Dickerson, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Maryland.

"What we have not been able to determine until now is the net effect," says Dickerson. "This study shows that fine particulate matter, mostly from air pollution, impedes gentle rains while exacerbating severe storms. It adds urgency to the need to control sulfur, nitrogen and hydrocarbon emissions."

According to Steve Ghan of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, "This work confirms what previous cloud modeling studies had suggested: that although clouds are influenced by many factors, increasing aerosols enhances the variability of precipitation, suppressing it when precipitation is light and intensifying it when it is strong.

"This complex influence is completely missing from climate models, casting doubt on their ability to simulate the response of precipitation to changes in aerosol pollution."

Aerosols are tiny solid particles or liquid particles suspended in air. They include soot, dust and sulfate particles and are what we commonly think of when we talk about air pollution.

Aerosols come, for example, from the combustion of fossil fuels, from industrial and agricultural processes and from the accidental or deliberate burning of fields and forests.

They can be hazardous to human health and the environment.

Aerosol particles also affect the Earth's surface temperature by reflecting light back into space.

The variable cooling and heating that results is, in part, how aerosols modify the stability that dictates atmospheric vertical motion and cloud formation.

Aerosols also affect cloud microphysics because they serve as nuclei around which water droplets or ice particles form.

Both processes can affect cloud properties and rainfall. Different processes may work in harmony or offset each other, leading to complex yet inconclusive interpretations, scientists say, of their long-term net effect.

Researchers agree that greenhouse gases and aerosol particles are two major agents dictating climate change.

The mechanisms of climate warming effects of increased greenhouse gases are clear: they trap solar energy absorbed at the Earth's surface and prevent it from being radiated as heat back into space.

The climate effects of increased aerosols are much less certain.

"This study demonstrates the importance and value of keeping a long record of continuous and comprehensive measurements to identify and quantify the important roles of aerosols in climate processes," says Steve Schwartz, a scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

"While the mechanisms for some of these effects remain uncertain, the well-defined relationships discovered demonstrate their significance," says Schwartz. "Controlling for these processes in models remains a future challenge, but this study clearly points to important directions."

"The findings from ground measurements of long-term effects are consistent with the global effects revealed from satellite measurements reported in our separate study," says Li.

"They attest to the needs of tackling the climate and environmental changes that matter so much to our daily lives."

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF (703) 292-7734 cdybas@nsf.gov
Lee Tune, University of Maryland (301) 405-4679 ltune@umd.edu
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2011, its budget is about $6.9 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives over 45,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes over 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

What the world's tiniest 'monster truck' reveals

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Treating arthritis with algae

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Witnessing turbulent motion in the atmosphere of a distant star

23.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>