the last four decades, scientists have observed a 1.3% per decade decline in the amount of sun reaching the Earth’s surface. This phenomenon, coined “solar dimming” or “global dimming,” is due to changes in clouds and air pollution that are impeding the suns ability to penetrate. Scientists believe that the combination of growing quantities of man-made aerosol particles in the atmosphere and more moisture are causing the cloud cover to thicken.
Reduction of solar radiance in watts per square meter
Despite this decline in solar radiation, the Earth’s surface continues to warm. New research, led by Dr. Beate Liepert of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, suggests an explanation for this paradox, as well as new findings that a warmer world may mean a dryer and dimmer world.
Published in Geophysical Research Letters, Liepert et al. show findings suggesting that solar radiation is being both reflected and trapped in the clouds and aerosol layer, thereby decreasing the amount of radiation that would ordinarily hit the Earth’s surface. It is widely agreed that greenhouse gas trapping is causing the Earth’s surface temperatures to rise. What has not been understood until now is that temperatures would be rising faster or higher if the aerosol layer and cloud cover were not reflecting some of the radiation away. Further, the researchers conclude that the imbalance of less solar radiation with warming surface temperatures will lead to weaker turbulent heat fluxes resulting in reduction in evaporation and precipitation, which will lead to a dryer world.
Mary Tobin | Earth Institute News
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