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Aerosol

Technically, an aerosol is a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in a gas.


Examples are smoke, oceanic haze, air pollution, smog and CS gas. In general conversation,
aerosol usually refers to an aerosol spray can or the output of such a can. The word aerosol
derives from the fact that matter "floating" in air is a suspension (a mixture in which solid or
liquid or combined solid-liquid particles are suspended in a fluid). To differentiate suspensions
from true solutions, the term sol evolved—originally meant to cover dispersions of tiny (sub-
microscopic) particles in a liquid. With studies of dispersions in air, the term aerosol evolved and
now embraces both liquid droplets, solid particles, and combinations of these.

Exposure
Concentrated aerosols from substances such as silica, asbestos, and diesel particulate matter are
sometimes found in the workplace and have been shown to result in a number of diseases
including silicosis and black lung. Respirators can protect workers from harmful aerosol
exposure.

Effect on climate
Aerosols over the Amazon each September for four burning seasons (2005 through 2008). The
aerosol scale (yellow to dark reddish-brown) indicates the relative amount of particles that
absorb sunlight.
Anthropogenic aerosols, particularly sulfate aerosols from fossil fuel combustion, exert a cooling
influence on the climate[3] which partly counteracts the warming induced by greenhouse gases
such as carbon dioxide. This effect is accounted for in many climate models.[4] Recent research,
as yet unconfirmed, suggests that aerosol diffusion of light may have increased the carbon sink in
the Earth's ecosystem.[5]
Recent studies of the and major increases since 1967 in rainfall over the Northern Territory,
Kimberley, Pilbara and around the Nullarbor Plain have led some scientists to conclude that the
aerosol haze over South and East Asia has been steadily shifting tropical rainfall in both
hemispheres southward.[7] The latest studies of severe rainfall declines over southern Australia
since 1997[8] have led climatologists there to consider the possibility that these Asian aerosols
have shifted not only tropical but also midlatitude systems southward.
Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in the atmosphere are a form of pollution which can give rise to smog
and act as a greenhouse gas. Their persistence in the atmosphere is affected by aerosol droplets
of water. In 1964 long chain fatty acids, either naturally produced from marine organisms
dispersed into the atmosphere by wave action or man-made, were found to coat these droplets. In
2006 there was a study of the effect of the LCFA on the persistence of NOx, but the long term
implications, although thought to be significant, have yet to be determined. CS gas is the
common name for 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (also called o-Chlorobenzylidene
Malononitrile) (chemical formula: C10H5ClN2), a "tear gas" that is used as a riot control agent. It
is generally accepted as being non-lethal. CS was discovered by two Americans, Ben Corson and
Roger Stoughton, at Middlebury College in 1928, and the chemical gets its name from the first
letters of the scientists' surnames.[4] The compound is actually a solid at room temperature,
though it is used as an aerosol
CS was developed and tested secretly at Porton Down in Wiltshire, England, in the 1950s and
1960s. CS was used first on animals, then subsequently on British Army servicemen volunteers.
Notably, CS has a limited effect on animals due to "under-developed tear-ducts and protection by
fur".

Aerosols:What Are They, and Why Are They So Important?


Aerosols are minute particles suspended in the atmosphere. When these particles are sufficiently
large, we notice their presence as they scatter and absorb sunlight. Their scattering of sunlight
can reduce visibility (haze) and redden sunrises and sunsets.
Aerosols interact both directly and indirectly with the Earth's radiation budget and climate. As a
direct effect, the aerosols scatter sunlight directly back into space. As an indirect effect, aerosols
in the lower atmosphere can modify the size of cloud particles, changing how the clouds reflect
and absorb sunlight, thereby affecting the Earth's energy budget.
Aerosols also can act as sites for chemical reactions to take place (heterogeneous chemistry). The
most significant of these reactions are those that lead to the destruction of stratospheric ozone.
During winter in the polar regions, aerosols grow to form polar stratospheric clouds. The large
surface areas of these cloud particles provide sites for chemical reactions to take place. These
reactions lead to the formation of large amounts of reactive chlorine and, ultimately, to the
destruction of ozone in the stratosphere. Evidence now exists that shows similar changes in
stratospheric ozone concentrations occur after major volcanic eruptions, like Mt. Pinatubo in
1991, where tons of volcanic aerosols are blown into the atmosphere (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 The dispersal of volcanic aerosols has a drastic effect on the Earth's atmosphere.
Following an eruption, large amounts of sulphur dioxide (SO2), hydrochloric acid (HCL) and
ash are spewed into the Earth's stratosphere. Hydrochloric acid, in most cases, condenses with
water vapor and is rained out of the volcanic cloud formation. Sulphur dioxide from the cloud is
transformed into sulphuric acid (H2SO4). The sulphuric acid quickly condenses, producing
aerosol particles which linger in the atmosphere for long periods of time. The interaction of
chemicals on the surface of aerosols, known as heterogeneous chemistry, and the tendency of
aerosols to increase levels of chlorine which can react with nitrogen in the stratosphere, is a
prime contributor to stratospheric ozone destruction.

Volcanic Aerosol
Three types of aerosols significantly affect the Earth's climate. The first is the volcanic aerosol
layer which forms in the stratosphere after major volcanic eruptions like Mt. Pinatubo. The
dominant aerosol layer is actually formed by sulfur dioxide gas which is converted to droplets of
sulfuric acid in the stratosphere over the course of a week to several months after the eruption
(Fig. 1). Winds in the stratosphere spread the aerosols until they practically cover the globe.
Once formed, these aerosols stay in the stratosphere for about two years. They reflect sunlight,
reducing the amount of energy reaching the lower atmosphere and the Earth's surface, cooling
them. The relative coolness of 1993 is thought to have been a response to the stratospheric
aerosol layer that was produced by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. In 1995, though several years had
passed since the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, remnants of the layer remained in the atmosphere. Data
from satellites such as the NASA Langley Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment II (SAGE
II) have enabled scientists to better understand the effects of volcanic aerosols on our
atmosphere.

Desert Dust
The second type of aerosol that may have a significant effect on climate is desert dust. Pictures
from weather satellites often reveal dust veils streaming out over the Atlantic Ocean from the
deserts of North Africa. Fallout from these layers has been observed at various locations on the
American continent. Similar veils of dust stream off deserts on the Asian continent. The
September 1994 Lidar In-space Technology Experiment (LITE), aboard the space shuttle
Discovery (STS-64), measured large quantities of desert dust in the lower atmosphere over
Africa (Fig. 2). The particles in these dust plumes are minute grains of dirt blown from the desert
surface. They are relatively large for atmospheric aerosols and would normally fall out of the
atmosphere after a short flight if they were not blown to relatively high altitudes (15,000 ft. and
higher) by intense dust storms.
Because the dust is composed of minerals, the particles absorb sunlight as well as scatter it.
Through absorption of sunlight, the dust particles warm the layer of the atmosphere where they
reside. This warmer air is believed to inhibit the formation of storm clouds. Through the
suppression of storm clouds and their consequent rain, the dust veil is believed to further desert
expansion.
Recent observations of some clouds indicate that they may be absorbing more sunlight than was
thought possible. Because of their ability to absorb sunlight, and their transport over large
distances, desert aerosols may be the culprit for this additional absorption of sunlight by some
clouds.

Human-Made Aerosol
The third type of aerosol comes from human activities. While a large fraction of human-made
aerosols come in the form of smoke from burning tropical forests, the major component comes in
the form of sulfate aerosols created by the burning of coal and oil. The concentration of human-
made sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere has grown rapidly since the start of the industrial
revolution. At current production levels, human-made sulfate aerosols are thought to outweigh
the naturally produced sulfate aerosols. The concentration of aerosols is highest in the northern
hemisphere where industrial activity is centered. The sulfate aerosols absorb no sunlight but they
reflect it, thereby reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface. Sulfate aerosols
are believed to survive in the atmosphere for about 3-5 days.
The sulfate aerosols also enter clouds where they cause the number of cloud droplets to increase
but make the droplet sizes smaller. The net effect is to make the clouds reflect more sunlight than
they would without the presence of the sulfate aerosols. Pollution from the stacks of ships at sea
has been seen to modify the low-lying clouds above them. These changes in the cloud droplets,
due to the sulfate aerosols from the ships, have been seen in pictures from weather satellites as a
track through a layer of clouds. In addition to making the clouds more reflective, it is also
believed that the additional aerosols cause polluted clouds to last longer and reflect more sunlight
than non-polluted clouds.

Climatic Effects of Aerosols


The additional reflection caused by pollution aerosols is expected to have an effect on the
climate comparable in magnitude to that of increasing concentrations of atmospheric gases. The
effect of the aerosols, however, will be opposite to the effect of the increasing atmospheric trace
gases - cooling instead of warming the atmosphere.
The warming effect of the greenhouse gases is expected to take place everywhere, but the
cooling effect of the pollution aerosols will be somewhat regionally dependent, near and
downwind of industrial areas. No one knows what the outcome will be of atmospheric warming
in some regions and cooling in others. Climate models are still too primitive to provide reliable
insight into the possible outcome. Current observations of the buildup are available only for a
few locations around the globe and these observations are fragmentary.
Understanding how much sulfur-based pollution is present in the atmosphere is important for
understanding the effectiveness of current sulfur dioxide pollution control strategies.

The Removal of Aerosols


It is believed that much of the removal of atmospheric aerosols occurs in the vicinity of large
weather systems and high altitude jet streams, where the stratosphere and the lower atmosphere
become intertwined and exchange air with each other. In such regions, many pollutant gases in
the troposphere can be injected in the stratosphere, affecting the chemistry of the stratosphere.
Likewise, in such regions, the ozone in the stratosphere is brought down to the lower atmosphere
where it reacts with the pollutant rich air, possibly forming new types of pollution aerosols.

Aerosols As Atmospheric Tracers


Aerosol measurements can also be used as tracers to study how the Earth's atmosphere moves.
Because aerosols change their characteristics very slowly, they make much better tracers for
atmospheric motions than a chemical species that may vary its concentration through chemical
reactions. Aerosols have been used to study the dynamics of the polar regions, stratospheric
transport from low to high latitudes, and the exchange of air between the troposphere and
stratosphere.

Future NASA Aerosol Studies


NASA's ongoing Atmospheric Effects of Aviation Project (AEAP) has measured emissions from
the engines of several commercial and research aircraft. Jet engine emissions have been shown to
affect the concentrations of atmospheric water vapor and aerosols, and they may affect how
clouds form and the concentrations of atmospheric ozone. Few actual measurements of their
effects have been made, however.
In the spring of 1996, the Subsonic Aircraft Contrail and Cloud Effects Special Study
(SUCCESS) focused on subsonic aircraft contrails and the impact of the aerosols in those
contrails on cirrus clouds and atmospheric chemistry. Researchers have determined that aircraft
contrails can prolong the presence of high altitude cirrus clouds while also decreasing the size of
the ice crystals that make up the clouds.Studies like SUCCESS and AEAP will be ongoing as
scientists continue to try to understand how aerosols affect our atmosphere and climate.
What are aerosols?
Aerosols are fine, airborne particles consisting at least in part of solid material. Density of the
basic materials of aerosols range from 1.0 g/cm3 (for soot) to 2.6 (for minerals). The ocean is a
major source of natural aerosols. Air-sea exchange of particulate matter contributes to the global
cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur aerosols, such as dimethylsulfide (DMS) produced by
phytoplankton. Ocean water and sea salt are transferred to the atmosphere through air bubbles at
the sea surface. As this water evaporates, the salt is left suspended in the atmosphere. Four other
significant sources of aerosols are terrestrial biomass burning, volcanic eruptions, windblown
dust from arid and semi-arid regions, and pollution from industrial emissions (Fig 1).
Clean continental air often contains less than 3,000 particles per cubic centimetre (of which half
are water-soluble), polluted continental air typically 50,000/cm3 (of which two-thirds are soot,
and the rest mostly water-soluble). Urban air typically contains 160,000/cm 3, mostly soot, and
only 20% is water-soluble. Desert air has about 2,300/cm 3 on average, almost all water-soluble.
Clean marine air generally has about 1,500/cm3, about all water-soluble. The lowest sea-level
values occur over the oceans near the subtropical highs (600/cm3 on average, but occasionally
below 300/cm3). Arctic air has about 6600/cm3 (including 5,300 soot) and on the Antarctic
plateau only 43/cm3 occur (about all sulphate) (
where N(z) is the concentration at height z (km) above ground level. The scale height H typically
is 10 km for continental (incl desert) air in summer, 6 km for urban air, 2 km for continental air
in winter, and 1 km over the marine subtropical high pressure regions. The higher values during
the summer imply more deep-tropospheric stirring of the aerosols by thunderstorms. In places
with a well-defined, long-lived inversion on top of a well-mixed planetary boundary layer, the
aerosol concentration tends to be homogenous in the PBL and perhaps 10x lower above the
inversion.
How aerosols affect climate
Aerosols play an important role in the global climate balance, and therefore they could be
important in climate change. Natural variations of aerosols, especially due to episodic large
eruptions of volcanoes, such as Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, are recognized as a significant climate
forcing, that is, a factor that alters the Earth's radiation balance and thus tends to cause a global
temperature change. In addition, there are several ways in which humans are altering
atmospheric aerosols, not only near the ground (e.g. industrial emissions) but as high as the
lower stratosphere (where they are continuously emitted by aircraft), and thus possibly affecting
climate (e.g. through contrails) (3).
Aerosols force climate in two ways (4):

•direct radiative forcing: the scattering of solar radiation and the absorption/emission of terrestrial
radiation.
•indirect radiative forcing, mainly by effects of aerosols on cloud properties. (A minor indirect
effect involves the heterogeneous chemistry of greenhouse gases: these gases may react at the
surface of an aerosol and therefore change radiative properties.)
Greenhouse gases have a well-understood effect on the global radiative balance and surface
temperatures, their concentration has little variability (except water vapour and ozone), and their
long-term trends are well-known. Therefore, there is much confidence in the greenhouse gas
component of the anticipated climate change during the next few decades. However climate
forcings due to aerosols are not determined well, especially the indirect radiative forcing. Indeed,
aerosols are one of the greatest sources of uncertainty in interpretation of climate change of the
past century and in projection of future climate change.
The effect of aerosols on clouds is highly speculative. The theory is that the more aerosol, the
smaller the cloud droplets tend to be, and clouds with more but smaller drops have a higher
albedo. This would increase the planetary albedo, i.e. have a cooling effect. Twomey (5)
proposed the first step in this theory, by showing empirically that the mean droplet mass in a
cloud decreases in proportion with the number concentration of aerosols (N). In other words, the
mean droplet radius (r) is proportional to:
r ~ N-0.33 or Dr/r = -(DN/N)/3
So if the aerosol concentration increases by 30% (DN/N = 0.3), the droplet radius decreases by
10%, and for the same total cloud water content, the number of droplets will increase by 30%.
While this relation has been corroborated surprisingly well in various field experiments, it is
uncertain whether the cloud water content will be conserved. And the radiative forcing of clouds
depends strongly on the heights of their bases and tops, which are unknown. Also, a variation in
the drop size of a cloud will affect the way in which the cloud will evolve, produce rain or
evaporate. In some circumstances aerosols may create clouds where none existed before, because
they act as cloud condensation nuclei. Satellite imagery over ocean areas prone to stratus clouds
(especially over high-pressure regions and/or low sea surface temperatures) reveal that ships
often trigger lines of stratus along their track. These 'ship tracks' increase the albedo and cause
net cooling. Another example is the production of DMS by phytoplankton (3). Some of this
DMS seeps into the atmosphere where the sulphate aerosol enhances cloud formation. Accurate
measurements at Cape Grim in northwest Tasmania have shown that DMS is the main agent of
the nucleation of clouds over the southern oceans (6). The surface waters within the large ocean
gyres are generally depleted of nutrients, especially iron. An experiment has shown that the
seeding of iron dramatically increases the DMS production in the ocean. The fractions of
aerosols that are manmade, biogenic, volcanic, or soil-based, and the chemical reactions of some
aerosols, are poorly understood. The inclusion of the ice phase adds an extra step of complexity.
In short, the effect of aerosols on clouds and thus on climate is very uncertain.
The climate forcing of greenhouse gases, aerosols, and other variants, is commonly expressed in
terms of the resulting net change to the radiation balance, expressed in W m-2. What really
matters of course is how much warming or cooling a variant bears. For instance, the net warming
of the Earth's atmosphere (as compared to an atmosphere without greenhouse gases, aerosols or
clouds) is 33K at the surface (from -18? C to +15? C, Section 2.8). The reason for the use of
radiation units rather than temperature units is that the effect of some perturbation (such as a
volcanic eruption) on surface temperatures involves a cornucopia of complex feedback effects,
such as atmospheric and ocean circulations. The radiative forcing is more 'raw', and allows more
direct comparisons, e.g. between general circulation models (GCMs).
The aerosol concentrations depend on the wind, the land surface conditions (vegetation cover),
sea surface temperature, and other climate factors. During an Ice Age the aerosol types and
distributions were very different from those during an interglacial. It is possible that aerosol acts
as a positive feedback in enhancing the difference between glacials and interglacials. For
instance, during a glacial, the stronger winds over denuded periglacial plains might pick up more
dust, contributinging to a higher planetary albedo, maintaining the cold. In other words, climate
and aerosol are inter-related in a complex way.