Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Aerosols Altered Asian Monsoons

     Summer monsoons provide much of the water for farming on the Indian subcontinent, but the pattern of rain shifted dramatically during the last half of the 20th century. In a study appearing online 29 September in Science, researchers pin the blame on soot and other aerosols from human activities.
      From 1951 to 1999, central-northern India became drier while Pakistan, northwestern India, and southern India got wetter. To determine whether these changes were due to natural variability or human interference (greenhouse gases or aerosols), climate scientists Massimo Bollasina, Yi Ming, and V. Ramaswamy of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory/NOAA in Princeton, New Jersey, compared the history of rainfall with simulations that singled out each climate “forcing” factor to observe its impact.
       Although greenhouse gases would have increased rainfall over north-central India, the aerosols, they found, caused the “very pronounced drying trend,” Ming says. Here’s why: Under normal conditions, the northern hemisphere receives more energy from the sun from June to September; that imbalance drives the ocean-atmosphere circulation that powers the monsoons. But atmospheric aerosols shaded the northern hemisphere relative to the southern hemisphere, altering the energy balance between the two—weakening the circulation and altering where the rain falls.



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