Do differences in future sulfate emission pathways matter for near-term climate? A case study for the Asian Monsoon

Rachel Bartlett, Massimo Bollasina, Ben B. B. Booth, Nick. J. Dunstone, Franco Marenco, Gabriele Messori, Dan J. Bernie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Anthropogenic aerosols could dominate over greenhouse gases in driving near-term hydroclimate change, especially in regions with high present-day aerosol loading such as Asia. Uncertainties in near-future aerosol emissions represent a potentially large, yet unexplored, source of ambiguity in climate projections for the coming decades. We investigated the near-term sensitivity of the Asian summer monsoon to aerosols by means of transient modelling experiments using HadGEM2-ES under two existing climate change mitigation scenarios selected to have similar greenhouse gas forcing, but to span a wide range of plausible global sulfur dioxide emissions. Increased sulfate aerosols, predominantly from East Asian sources, lead to large regional dimming through aerosol-radiation and aerosol-cloud interactions. This results in surface cooling and anomalous anticyclonic flow over land, while abating the western Pacific subtropical high. The East Asian monsoon circulation weakens and precipitation stagnates over Indochina, resembling the observed southern-flood-northern-drought pattern over China. Large-scale circulation adjustments drive suppression of the South Asian monsoon and a westward extension of the Maritime Continent convective region. Remote impacts across the Northern Hemisphere are also generated, including a northwestward shift of West African monsoon rainfall induced by the westward displacement of the Indian Ocean Walker cell, and temperature anomalies in northern midlatitudes linked to propagation of Rossby waves from East Asia. These results indicate that aerosol emissions are a key source of uncertainty in near-term projection of regional and global climate; a careful examination of the uncertainties associated with aerosol pathways in future climate assessments must be highly prioritised.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1863–1880
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number5-6
Early online date17 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


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