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Detection of solar dimming and brightening effects on Northern Hemisphere river flow

Gedney, N.; Huntingford, C.; Weedon, G.P.; Bellouin, N.; Cox, P.M.. 2014 Detection of solar dimming and brightening effects on Northern Hemisphere river flow. Nature Geoscience, 7. 796-800. 10.1038/NGEO2263

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Abstract/Summary

Anthropogenic aerosols in the atmosphere have the potential to affect regional-scale land hydrology through solar dimming1, 2. Increased aerosol loading may have reduced historical surface evaporation over some locations3, but the magnitude and extent of this effect is uncertain. Any reduction in evaporation due to historical solar dimming may have resulted in an increase in river flow. Here we formally detect and quantify the historical effect of changing aerosol concentrations, via solar radiation, on observed river flow over the heavily industrialized, northern extra-tropics. We use a state-of-the-art estimate of twentieth century surface meteorology4 as input data for a detailed land surface model5, and show that the simulations capture the observed strong inter-annual variability in runoff in response to climatic fluctuations. Using statistical techniques, we identify a detectable aerosol signal in the observed river flow both over the combined region, and over individual river basins in Europe and North America. We estimate that solar dimming due to rising aerosol concentrations in the atmosphere around 1980 led to an increase in river runoff by up to 25% in the most heavily polluted regions in Europe. We propose that, conversely, these regions may experience reduced freshwater availability in the future, as air quality improvements are set to lower aerosol loading and solar dimming.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1038/NGEO2263
CEH Sections: Reynard
ISSN: 1752-0894
Additional Keywords: Atmospheric science, Environmental sciences, Hydrology
NORA Subject Terms: Hydrology
Meteorology and Climatology
Atmospheric Sciences
Date made live: 03 Mar 2016 10:07 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/513158

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