Aerosols are tiny particles, such as soot or dust, suspended in Earth's atmosphere. In addition to their impacts on air-quality, aerosols can block sunlight from reaching the Earth's surface. This image shows how much sunlight aerosols blocked from reaching the Earth's surface in 2006. Areas where aerosols let sunlight through are white, and areas where aerosols blocked sunlight from reaching the Earth are dark orange. Areas where data could not be collected appear in gray.
Click on image for full size
Image Courtesy of Reto Stockli, NASA's Earth Observatory
Pollution Speeds up Snow Melt in Europe and Asia
Mark Flanner, a scientist who studies climate change, conducted a study that found that snow melts faster during the spring in Europe and Asia than in North America.
Flanner and his colleagues think that aerosols, which are tiny floating particles in the sky, are the cause of this. The countries in Europe and Asia produce high levels of black carbon and mineral dust, which are types of air pollution. These particles become aerosols in the atmosphere. Some aerosols reflect energy from the sun, which possibly cools the Earth's surface below. But black carbon and mineral dust tend to warm snow-covered surfaces by absorbing energy from the sun.
"While this research does not fully explain why springtime land temperatures and snow cover are changing so much faster over Eurasia than North America, it does suggest that snow darkening from black carbon, a process lacking in most climate models, is playing a role," Flanner said.
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