Similarities and differences of aerosol optical properties between southern and northern sides of the Himalayas
Abstract. The Himalaya mountains along the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau act as a natural barrier for the transport of atmospheric aerosols from the polluted regions of South Asia to the main body of the Tibetan Plateau. In this study, we investigate the seasonal and diurnal variations of aerosol optical properties measured at two Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONET) sites on the southern side of the Himalaya (Pokhara, 812 m above sea level (a.s.l.) and EVK2-CNR, 5079 m a.s.l. in Nepal) and one on the northern side (Qomolangma (Mt. Everest) station for Atmospheric and Environmental Observation and Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (QOMS_CAS) in Tibet, 4076 m a.s.l. in China). While observations at QOMS_CAS and EVK2-CNR can generally be representative of a remote background atmosphere, Pokhara is a lower-elevation suburban site with much higher aerosol load due to both the influence of local anthropogenic activities and to its proximity to the Indo-Gangetic Plains. The annual mean aerosol optical depth (AOD) during the investigated period was 0.05 at QOMS_CAS, 0.04 at EVK2-CNR and 0.51 at Pokhara, respectively. Seasonal variations of aerosols are profoundly affected by large-scale atmospheric circulation. Vegetation fires, peaking during April in the Himalayan region and northern India, contribute to a growing fine mode AOD at the three stations. Dust transported to these sites, wind erosion and hydrated/cloud-processed aerosols lead to an increase in coarse mode AOD during the monsoon season at QOMS_CAS and EVK2-CNR. Meanwhile, coarse mode AOD at EVK2-CNR is higher than at QOMS_CAS in August and September, indicating that the transport of coarse mode aerosols from the southern to the northern side may be effectively reduced. The effect of precipitation scavenging is clearly seen at Pokhara, which sees significantly reduced aerosol loads during the monsoon season. Unlike the seasonal variations, diurnal variations are mainly influenced by meso-scale systems and local topography. The diurnal pattern in precipitation appears to contribute to diurnal changes in AOD through the effect of precipitation scavenging. AOD exhibits diurnal patterns related to emissions in Pokhara, while it does not at the other two high-altitude sites. At EVK2-CNR, the daytime airflow carries aerosols up from lower-altitude polluted regions, leading to increasing AOD, while the other two stations are less influenced by valley winds. Surface heating influences the local convection, which further controls the vertical aerosol exchange and the diffusion rate of pollution to the surrounding areas. Fine and coarse mode particles are mixed together on the southern side of the Himalaya in spring, which may lead to the greater inter-annual difference in diurnal cycles of Ångström exponent (AE) at EVK2-CNR than that at QOMS_CAS.