Headline: Aerosols heat up the Himalayan climate

The impact of aerosols, especially the absorbing aerosols, in the Himalayan region is important for climate. We closely examine ground-based high-quality observations of aerosol characteristics including radiative forcing from several locations in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP), the Himalayan foothills and the Tibetan Plateau, relatively poorly studied regions with several sensitive ecosystems of global importance, as well as highly vulnerable large populations. This paper presents a state-of-the-art treatment of the warming that arises from these particles, using a combination of new measurements and modeling techniques. This is a first-time analysis of its kind, including ground-based observations, satellite data, and model simulations, which reveals that the aerosol radiative forcing efficiency (ARFE) in the atmosphere is clearly high over the IGP and the Himalayan foothills (80–135 Wm−2 per unit aerosol optical depth (AOD)), with values being greater at higher elevations. AOD is >0.30 and single scattering albedo (SSA) is ∼0.90 throughout the year over this region. The mean ARFE is 2–4 times higher here than over other polluted sites in South and East Asia, owing to higher AOD and aerosol absorption (i.e., lower SSA). Further, the observed annual mean aerosol-induced atmospheric heating rates (0.5–0.8 Kelvin/day), which are significantly higher than previously reported values for the region, imply that the aerosols alone could account for >50 % of the total warming (aerosols + greenhouse gases) of the lower atmosphere and surface over this region. We demonstrate that the current state-of-the-art models used in climate assessments significantly underestimate aerosol-induced heating, efficiency and warming over the Hindu Kush – Himalaya – Tibetan Plateau (HKHTP) region, indicating a need for a more realistic representation of aerosol properties, especially of black carbon and other aerosols. The significant, regionally coherent aerosol-induced warming that we observe in the high altitudes of the region, is a significant factor contributing to increasing air temperature, observed accelerated retreat of the glaciers, and changes in the hydrological cycle and precipitation patterns over this region. Thus, aerosols are heating up the Himalayan climate, and will remain a key factor driving climate change over the region.

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Ramachandran, S., Rupakheti, M., Cherian, R., & Lawrence, M. G. (2023). Aerosols heat up the Himalayan climate. The science of the total environment, 894: 164733. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.164733.

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