Cooling of the Planet From Aerosols Was Underestimated

New calculations show scientists have grossly underestimated the impact of air pollution on climate change models. The scientific community has known of global cooling by air pollution in the form of aerosols, but their impact was underestimated.

Aerosols cool the environment by increasing the reflection on sunlight back to space. Research shows the degree to which aerosols cool the earth has been so underestimated that it requires the recalculation of climate change models to predict the rate of global warming.

Previous estimates about the cooling from aerosols were unreliable because of the difficulty of separating the effects of rising winds from the effects of aerosols that determine cloud composition.

Using satellite images to calculate the effect of and separate out vertical winds and aerosol cloud droplet numbers, scientists were able to more accurately calculate aerosols’ cooling effects on the climate. They found aerosols’ cooling effect is almost twice as much as previously thought.

The fact that our planet is getting warmer despite aerosols cooling it down at higher rates than scientists thought highlights a conundrum. Humanity’s efforts to improve air quality by developing cleaner fossil fuels may accelerate global warming. If we remove particulate matter, while still pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere it will decrease solar reflectivity, while accelerating global warming.

 

 

Image: “Paint by Particle” by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is licensed under CC BY 2.0