Articles | Volume 24, issue 1
 | Highlight paper
15 Jan 2024
Opinion | Highlight paper |  | 15 Jan 2024

Opinion: The importance of historical and paleoclimate aerosol radiative effects

Natalie M. Mahowald, Longlei Li, Samuel Albani, Douglas S. Hamilton, and Jasper F. Kok


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Executive editor
Natural aerosols have long been understood to have a substantial effect on Earth’s climate, in particular because they define a natural baseline that affects the magnitude of anthropogenic aerosol radiative forcing. In this Opinion the authors highlight the very large uncertainties in the radiative effects of aerosols particularly from fires and dust, which they estimate to exceed the magnitude of anthropogenic aerosol forcing over the entire industrial period. Rather than just defining a pre-industrial baseline for aerosol, natural emissions have changed substantially during pre-industrial times and through the industrial period, making a very poorly defined contribution to climate change. Based on the estimated large uncertainties, the authors argue for greater research efforts to narrow them.
Short summary
Estimating past aerosol radiative effects and their uncertainties is an important topic in climate science. Aerosol radiative effects propagate into large uncertainties in estimates of how present and future climate evolves with changing greenhouse gas emissions. A deeper understanding of how aerosols interacted with the atmospheric energy budget under past climates is hindered in part by a lack of relevant paleo-observations and in part because less attention has been paid to the problem.
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