Fitting all the different pieces of the climate change puzzle together is one of the major challenges of our age. Aerosol is a key piece of this puzzle, but the size and shape of its effect is still unclear a fact that jeopardises the reliability of all current predictions of climate change.
Now, a new 630,000 project has been launched at the University of Leeds to tackle the conundrum of how aerosol affects climate.
Aerosols are small particles suspended in the atmosphere, such as soot in smoke or chemicals emitted by trees, and are known by experts to have a huge cooling effect on our planet. This is because these particles act as tiny mirrors that reflect sunlight back into space.
This effect is thought to be so large that, since the industrial period, the climactic cooling effect of aerosols has largely cancelled out the warming effect of greenhouse gases. This phenomenon has often been referred to as global dimming.
"Aerosol is the most important factor that affects climate after greenhouse gases," says Professor Ken Carslaw from the University of Leeds, who is leading the research.
"Aerosol pretty much counteracts a large part of global warming caused by greenhouse gases, meaning that temperature changes over the industrial period would have been a lot more intense if it weren't for aerosol," explains Professor Carslaw.
Aerosol has been described by the IPCC as the biggest source of uncertainty in climate change models. Being able to reduce uncertainty in climate models is important because it affects how confident we can be in models that predict the intensity of future climate changes.
"The potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change mean that policy makers are no longer satisfied with climate scientists explaining that they have ten models that give a range of answers," adds Professor Carslaw.
Currently there is very little understanding of why aerosol is suc
|Contact: Clare Ryan|
University of Leeds