Study: Earth’s clean air has detrimental effects on climate

Researchers using a range of satellite observations have found that the effect of air pollution on climate has fallen by up to 30% from 2000 levels, Science reported.

While this is good for public health, it’s bad for global warming or climate change, Science observed.

The cleaner air actually increased the total warming due to carbon dioxide emitted during the same period by 15% to 50%, according to Johannes Quaas, a climatologist at the University of Leipzig, who led the research.

Quaas’ new research emerged from last year’s UN climate assessment, Science reported. It shows a drop in aerosols in North America and Europe, but no clear global trend. Quaas and his co-authors thought two NASA satellites, Terra and Aqua, operating since 1999 and 2002, could help, Science reported.

But an instrument on Aqua and Terra also showed a drop in reflected light. Models suggest that a decrease in aerosols is partly responsible.

From 2000 to 2019, the haze over North America, Europe and East Asia decreased, although it continued to thicken over coal-dependent India. Quaas and the researchers found a marked decrease in cloud droplet concentrations in the same regions where aerosols decreased.

It will increase as air quality continues to improve around the world, Science observed. The answer is not to continue polluting, said Jan Cermak, a remote sensing researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

“Air pollution kills people,” Cermak said. “We need clean air.”

Instead, efforts to reduce greenhouse gases must be redoubled, he says, as the Earth warms every year.

“I think their conclusions are correct,” James Hansen, a retired NASA climatologist, told Science.

Hansen said it was impressive scientific detective work because no satellite could directly measure global aerosols over that entire period.

“It’s like inferring the properties of unobserved dark matter by looking at its gravitational effects,” he said.

Hansen expects there will be follow-up work as researchers seek to quantify the warming impetus.

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