The roles of aerosol, water vapor and cloud in future global dimming/brightening
Haywood, J. M., Bellouin, N., Jones, A., Boucher, O., Wild, M. and Shine, K. P. (2011) The roles of aerosol, water vapor and cloud in future global dimming/brightening. Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, 116. D20203. ISSN 2156–2202
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1029/2011JD016000
Observational evidence indicates significant regional trends in solar radiation at the surface in both all-sky and cloud-free conditions. Negative trends in the downwelling solar surface irradiance (SSI) have become known as ‘dimming’ while positive trends have become known as ‘brightening’. We use the Met Office Hadley Centre HadGEM2 climate model to model trends in cloud-free and total SSI from the pre-industrial to the present-day and compare these against observations. Simulations driven by CMIP5 emissions are used to model the future trends in dimming/brightening up to the year 2100. The modeled trends are reasonably consistent with observed regional trends in dimming and brightening which are due to changes in concentrations in anthropogenic aerosols and, potentially, changes in cloud cover owing to the aerosol indirect effects and/or cloud feedback mechanisms. The future dimming/brightening in cloud-free SSI is not only caused by changes in anthropogenic aerosols: aerosol impacts are overwhelmed by a large dimming caused by increases in water vapor. There is little trend in the total SSI as cloud cover decreases in the climate model used here, and compensates the effect of the change in water vapor. In terms of the surface energy balance, these trends in SSI are obviously more than compensated by the increase in the downwelling terrestrial irradiance from increased water vapor concentrations. However, the study shows that while water vapor is widely appreciated as a greenhouse gas, water vapor impacts on the atmospheric transmission of solar radiation and the future of global dimming/brightening should not be overlooked.