Articles | Volume 17, issue 13
Research article
04 Jul 2017
Research article |  | 04 Jul 2017

Impact of aerosols and clouds on decadal trends in all-sky solar radiation over the Netherlands (1966–2015)

Reinout Boers, Theo Brandsma, and A. Pier Siebesma

Abstract. A 50-year hourly data set of global shortwave radiation, cloudiness and visibility over the Netherlands was used to quantify the contribution of aerosols and clouds to the trend in yearly-averaged all-sky radiation (1.81 ± 1.07 W m−2 decade−1). Yearly-averaged clear-sky and cloud-base radiation data show large year-to-year fluctuations caused by yearly changes in the occurrence of clear and cloudy periods and cannot be used for trend analysis. Therefore, proxy clear-sky and cloud-base radiations were computed. In a proxy analysis hourly radiation data falling within a fractional cloudiness value are fitted by monotonic increasing functions of solar zenith angle and summed over all zenith angles occurring in a single year to produce an average. Stable trends can then be computed from the proxy radiation data. A functional expression is derived whereby the trend in proxy all-sky radiation is a linear combination of trends in fractional cloudiness, proxy clear-sky radiation and proxy cloud-base radiation. Trends (per decade) in fractional cloudiness, proxy clear-sky and proxy cloud-base radiation were, respectively, 0.0097 ± 0.0062, 2.78 ± 0.50 and 3.43 ± 1.17 W m−2. To add up to the all-sky radiation the three trends have weight factors, namely the difference between the mean cloud-base and clear-sky radiation, the clear-sky fraction and the fractional cloudiness, respectively. Our analysis clearly demonstrates that all three components contribute significantly to the observed trend in all-sky radiation. Radiative transfer calculations using the aerosol optical thickness derived from visibility observations indicate that aerosol–radiation interaction (ARI) is a strong candidate to explain the upward trend in the clear-sky radiation. Aerosol–cloud interaction (ACI) may have some impact on cloud-base radiation, but it is suggested that decadal changes in cloud thickness and synoptic-scale changes in cloud amount also play an important role.

Short summary
In the Netherlands 9 W m−2 more solar radiation falls on the surface today than 50 years ago. Often this increase, which has also been detected in surrounding western Europe, has been attributed to decreasing air pollution due to improved regulatory practices. However, over the Netherlands clouds play an important but ambiguous role. Cloud cover has increased but have become optically thinner as well. Here, the impact of clouds on radiation is in fact more important than that of air pollution.
Final-revised paper