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Effect of important air pollutants may be absent from key precipitation observations
Date:3/30/2014

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The concentration of human-made aerosols in the atmosphere increased rapidly in the decades following the Second World War. Although aerosols interact with clouds and precipitation in complex ways, the primary effect is to reflect sunlight and cool the planet's surface. Hence, physical theory and modelling suggest there are robust expectations for regional temperature and precipitation change.

The study showed that climate models replicate the mid-twentieth-century fall in temperature linked to increased aerosol concentrations that is seen in observations.

It also showed that models and observations were in agreement over a reduction in rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere tropics around the same time, which is associated with the severe Sahel drought of the 1970s.

However, there was a dramatic discrepancy between the expected change in precipitation across the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes where industrialisation occurred most heavily in the 20th century and observations. While the modelling and physical theory suggested precipitation should fall, observations suggest that it increased.

Joe, a PhD student and lead author, explained the significance of the study. He said: "The study shows that precipitation in two key regions alters in line with mid-20th Century changes in aerosol across a number of the latest climate models. This can be understood in terms of the aerosol influence on the amount of energy received at the Earth's surface and consequent changes in atmospheric circulation.

"However, we also show that the response of precipitation observations in the mid-latitudes is not as we might have expected, given the models and our understanding."


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Contact: Duncan Sandes
d.sandes@exeter.ac.uk
University of Exeter
Source:Eurekalert

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