Articles | Volume 14, issue 3
Research article
14 Feb 2014
Research article |  | 14 Feb 2014

Assessment of the effect of air pollution controls on trends in shortwave radiation over the United States from 1995 through 2010 from multiple observation networks

C.-M. Gan, J. Pleim, R. Mathur, C. Hogrefe, C. N. Long, J. Xing, S. Roselle, and C. Wei

Abstract. Long-term data sets of all-sky and clear-sky downwelling shortwave (SW) radiation, cloud cover fraction, and aerosol optical depth (AOD) were analyzed together with surface concentrations from several networks (e.g., Surface Radiation Budget Network (SURFRAD), Clean Air Status and Trend Network (CASTNET), Interagency Monitoring of Protection Visual Environments (IMPROVE) and Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM)) in the United States (US). Seven states with varying climatology were selected to better understand the effects of aerosols and clouds on SW radiation. This analysis aims to assess the effects of reductions in anthropogenic aerosol burden resulting from substantial reductions in emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) over the past 16 yr across the US, based on trends in SW radiation. The SO2 and NOx emission data show decreasing trends from 1995 to 2010, which indirectly validates the effects of the Clean Air Act (CAA) in the US. Meanwhile, the total column AOD and surface total PM2.5 observations also show decreasing trends in the eastern US but slightly increasing trends in the western US. Moreover, measured surface concentrations of several other pollutants (i.e., SO2, SO4 and NOx) have similar behavior to AOD and total PM2.5. Analysis of the observed data shows strong increasing trends in all-sky downwelling SW radiation with decreasing trends in cloud cover. However, since observations of both all-sky direct and diffuse SW radiation show increasing trends, there may be other factors contributing to the radiation trends in addition to the decreasing trends in overall cloud cover. To investigate the role of direct radiative effects of aerosols, clear-sky downwelling radiation is analyzed so that cloud effects are eliminated. However, similar increasing trends in clear-sky total and diffuse SW radiation are observed. While significantly decreasing trends in AOD and surface PM2.5 concentrations along with increasing SW radiation (both all-sky and clear-sky) in the eastern US during 1995–2010 imply the occurrence of direct aerosol mediated "brightening", the increasing trends of both all-sky and clear-sky diffuse SW radiation contradicts this conclusion since diffuse radiation would be expected to decrease as aerosols direct effects decrease and cloud cover decreases. After investigating several confounding factors, the increasing trend in clear-sky diffuse SW may be due to more high-level cirrus from increasing air traffic over the US. The clear-sky radiation observations in the western US also show indications of "brightening" even though the AOD, PM2.5 and surface concentration do not vary drastically. This outcome was not unexpected because the CAA controls were mainly aimed at reducing air pollutant emissions in the eastern US and air pollutant levels in the western US were much lower at the onset. This suggests other factors affect the "brightening" especially in the western US.

Final-revised paper