Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Blue sky research reveals trends in air pollution, clears way for new climate change studies

A University of Maryland-led team has compiled the first decades-long database of aerosol measurements over land, making possible new research into how air pollution changes affect climate change.

Using this new database, the researchers show that clear sky visibility over land has decreased globally over the past 30 years, indicative of increases in aerosols, or airborne pollution. Their findings are published in the March 13 issue of Science.

"Creation of this database is a big step forward for researching long-term changes in air pollution and correlating these with climate change," said Kaicun Wang, assistant research scientist in the University of Maryland's department of geography and lead author of the paper. "And it is the first time we have gotten global long-term aerosol information over land to go with information already available on aerosol measurements over the world's oceans."

Wang, together with Shunlin Liang, a University of Maryland professor of geography, and Robert Dickinson, a professor of geological science at the University of Texas, Austin, created a database that includes visibility measurements taken from 1973 – 2007 at 3,250 meteorological stations all over the world and released by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). Visibility was the distance a meteorological observer could see clearly from the measurement source. The more aerosols present in the air, the shorter the visibility distance.

According to the researchers, the visibility data were compared to available satellite data (2000-2007), and found to be comparable as an indicator of aerosol concentration in the air. Thus, they conclude, the visibility data provide a valid source from which scientists can study correlations between air pollution and climate change.

Aerosols, Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

Aerosols are solid particles or liquid droplets suspended in air. They include soot, dust and sulfur dioxide particles, and are what we commonly think of when we talk about air pollution. Aerosols come, for example, from the combustion of fossil fuels, industrial processes, and biomass burning of tropical rainforests. They can be hazardous to both human health and the environment.

Aerosol particles affect the Earth's surface temperature by either reflecting light back into space, thus reducing solar radiation at Earth's surface, or absorbing solar radiation, thus heating the atmosphere. The variable cooling and heating effects of aerosols also modify properties of cloud cover and rainfall.

Unlike aerosol particles, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are transparent and have no effect on visibility. Sunlight passes right through them, just as it does through the oxygen and nitrogen that are the main constituents of our atmosphere. Though present in the atmosphere in relatively small amounts, greenhouse gases cause global warming because these "trace" gases trap solar energy absorbed at the earth's surface and prevent it from being radiated as heat back into space.

While the climate warming impacts of increased greenhouse gases are clear, the effects of increased aerosols are not. Studies of the long-term effects of aerosols on climate change have been largely inconclusive up to now due to limited over-land aerosol measurements, according to Wang and his team. However, with this database researchers now can compare temperature, rainfall and cloud cover data from the past 35 years with the aerosol measurements in the new database.

Global Dimming

According to the authors, a preliminary analysis of the database measurements shows a steady increase in aerosols over the period from 1973 to 2007. Increased aerosols in the atmosphere block solar radiation from the earth's surface, and have thus caused a net "global dimming." The only region that does not show an increase in aerosols is Europe, which has actually experienced a "global brightening," the authors say.

The largest known source of increased aerosols is increased burning of fossil fuels. And a major product of fossil fuel combustion is sulfur dioxide. Thus, the team notes, that their finding of a steady increase in aerosols in recent decades, also suggests an increase in sulfate aerosols. This differs from studies recently cited by the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change showing global emissions of sulfate aerosol decreased between 1980 and 2000.

Lee Tune | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic
24.10.2016 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>