Articles | Volume 15, issue 14
Research article
24 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 24 Jul 2015

Climate responses to anthropogenic emissions of short-lived climate pollutants

L. H. Baker, W. J. Collins, D. J. L. Olivié, R. Cherian, Ø. Hodnebrog, G. Myhre, and J. Quaas

Abstract. Policies to control air quality focus on mitigating emissions of aerosols and their precursors, and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). On a local scale, these policies will have beneficial impacts on health and crop yields, by reducing particulate matter (PM) and surface ozone concentrations; however, the climate impacts of reducing emissions of SLCPs are less straightforward to predict. In this paper we consider a set of idealized, extreme mitigation strategies, in which the total anthropogenic emissions of individual SLCP emissions species are removed. This provides an upper bound on the potential climate impacts of such air quality strategies.

We focus on evaluating the climate responses to changes in anthropogenic emissions of aerosol precursor species: black carbon (BC), organic carbon (OC) and sulphur dioxide (SO2). We perform climate integrations with four fully coupled atmosphere–ocean global climate models (AOGCMs), and examine the effects on global and regional climate of removing the total land-based anthropogenic emissions of each of the three aerosol precursor species.

We find that the SO2 emissions reductions lead to the strongest response, with all models showing an increase in surface temperature focussed in the Northern Hemisphere mid and (especially) high latitudes, and showing a corresponding increase in global mean precipitation. Changes in precipitation patterns are driven mostly by a northward shift in the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone), consistent with the hemispherically asymmetric warming pattern driven by the emissions changes. The BC and OC emissions reductions give a much weaker response, and there is some disagreement between models in the sign of the climate responses to these perturbations. These differences between models are due largely to natural variability in sea-ice extent, circulation patterns and cloud changes. This large natural variability component to the signal when the ocean circulation and sea-ice are free-running means that the BC and OC mitigation measures do not necessarily lead to a discernible climate response.

Short summary
We investigate the impact of removing land-based anthropogenic emissions of three aerosol species, using four fully-coupled atmosphere-ocean global climate models. Removing SO2 emissions leads to warming globally, strongest in the Northern Hemisphere (NH), and an increase in NH precipitation. Organic and black carbon (OC, BC) have a weaker impact, and less certainty on the response; OC (BC) removal shows a weak overall warming (cooling), and both show small increases in precipitation globally.
Final-revised paper