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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 18, issue 17 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 18, 13265-13281, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 14 Sep 2018

Research article | 14 Sep 2018

Changes in the aerosol direct radiative forcing from 2001 to 2015: observational constraints and regional mechanisms

Fabien Paulot1,2, David Paynter1, Paul Ginoux1, Vaishali Naik1, and Larry W. Horowitz1 Fabien Paulot et al.
  • 1Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton, New Jersey, USA
  • 2Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA

Abstract. We present estimates of changes in the direct aerosol effects (DRE) and its anthropogenic component (DRF) from 2001 to 2015 using the GFDL chemistry–climate model AM3 driven by CMIP6 historical emissions. AM3 is evaluated against observed changes in the clear-sky shortwave direct aerosol effect (DREswclr) derived from the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) over polluted regions. From 2001 to 2015, observations suggest that DREclrsw increases (i.e., less radiation is scattered to space by aerosols) over western Europe (0.7–1Wm−2decade−1) and the eastern US (0.9–1.4Wm−2decade−1), decreases over India (−1 to −1.6Wm−2decade−1), and does not change significantly over eastern China. AM3 captures these observed regional changes in DREclrsw well in the US and western Europe, where they are dominated by the decline of sulfate aerosols, but not in Asia, where the model overestimates the decrease of DREclrsw. Over India, the model bias can be partly attributed to a decrease of the dust optical depth, which is not captured by our model and offsets some of the increase of anthropogenic aerosols. Over China, we find that the decline of SO2 emissions after 2007 is not represented in the CMIP6 emission inventory. Accounting for this decline, using the Modular Emission Inventory for China, and for the heterogeneous oxidation of SO2 significantly reduces the model bias. For both India and China, our simulations indicate that nitrate and black carbon contribute more to changes in DREclrsw than in the US and Europe. Indeed, our model suggests that black carbon (+0.12Wm−2) dominates the relatively weak change in DRF from 2001 to 2015 (+0.03Wm−2). Over this period, the changes in the forcing from nitrate and sulfate are both small and of the same magnitude (−0.03Wm−2 each). This is in sharp contrast to the forcing from 1850 to 2001 in which forcings by sulfate and black carbon largely cancel each other out, with minor contributions from nitrate. The differences between these time periods can be well understood from changes in emissions alone for black carbon but not for nitrate and sulfate; this reflects non-linear changes in the photochemical production of nitrate and sulfate associated with changes in both the magnitude and spatial distribution of anthropogenic emissions.

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Short summary
Observations show that the sunlight reflected to space by particles has decreased over the US and Europe, increased over India, and not changed over China from 2001 to 2015. These changes are attributed to different types of particles, namely sulfate over the US and Europe, and black carbon, sulfate, and nitrate over China and India. Our results suggest that the recent shift in human emissions from the US and Europe to Asia has altered their impact on the Earth's outgoing energy.
Observations show that the sunlight reflected to space by particles has decreased over the US...