Particulate matter, air quality and climate: lessons learned and future needs
Abstract. The literature on atmospheric particulate matter (PM), or atmospheric aerosol, has increased enormously over the last 2 decades and amounts now to some 1500–2000 papers per year in the refereed literature. This is in part due to the enormous advances in measurement technologies, which have allowed for an increasingly accurate understanding of the chemical composition and of the physical properties of atmospheric particles and of their processes in the atmosphere. The growing scientific interest in atmospheric aerosol particles is due to their high importance for environmental policy. In fact, particulate matter constitutes one of the most challenging problems both for air quality and for climate change policies. In this context, this paper reviews the most recent results within the atmospheric aerosol sciences and the policy needs, which have driven much of the increase in monitoring and mechanistic research over the last 2 decades.
The synthesis reveals many new processes and developments in the science underpinning climate–aerosol interactions and effects of PM on human health and the environment. However, while airborne particulate matter is responsible for globally important influences on premature human mortality, we still do not know the relative importance of the different chemical components of PM for these effects. Likewise, the magnitude of the overall effects of PM on climate remains highly uncertain. Despite the uncertainty there are many things that could be done to mitigate local and global problems of atmospheric PM. Recent analyses have shown that reducing black carbon (BC) emissions, using known control measures, would reduce global warming and delay the time when anthropogenic effects on global temperature would exceed 2 °C. Likewise, cost-effective control measures on ammonia, an important agricultural precursor gas for secondary inorganic aerosols (SIA), would reduce regional eutrophication and PM concentrations in large areas of Europe, China and the USA. Thus, there is much that could be done to reduce the effects of atmospheric PM on the climate and the health of the environment and the human population.
A prioritized list of actions to mitigate the full range of effects of PM is currently undeliverable due to shortcomings in the knowledge of aerosol science; among the shortcomings, the roles of PM in global climate and the relative roles of different PM precursor sources and their response to climate and land use change over the remaining decades of this century are prominent. In any case, the evidence from this paper strongly advocates for an integrated approach to air quality and climate policies.