Climate change and the aerosol problem

While fossil fuels act on climate change by raising the temperature, aerosols help to cool it. But, in any case, science is facing great uncertainty on this issue. This strange climatic contradiction would cause an ironic beneficial side effect. Burning less gas, oil and coal is what is most promoted against global warming. However, this decision would be accompanied by a decrease in aerosols that “supposedly” help to cool the planet.

The first question is about what cooling aerosols provide and what effect a move away from fossil fuels would have. All this opens up a number of questions for climate researchers. Duncan Watson-Parris, a climatologist at Oxford University, understands that “it is taken for granted that aerosols are important.” This specialist understands that “this uncertainty in the aerosol effect is a key uncertainty in climate science”.

Watson-Parris, last week, published a paper on this topic in the journal Nature Climate Change. In the text, the climatologist represented a scenario about the change that would generate aerosol concentrations until the end of the century. The specialist assumes that along with less fossil fuel burning, there will also be less aerosol production. This could lead to a change in the amount of cooling that these products can provide.

Looking at variants of climate change

For the model presented, it is assumed that losing aerosols would be like turning off the planet’s air conditioning. The resulting warming that would occur would exceed the Paris Agreement target. We are talking about preventing global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The size of this effect is key for policymakers, which has been discussed in recent weeks in Egypt. The African country hosted the COP27 climate conference and its negotiation on carbon emissions to be emitted by countries.

Analyzing these types of effects at the global level remains very difficult. For Watson-Parris it is complex to determine the influence of fossil fuel particles on the formation of a given cloud. However, there is still a lot of data to compare, says the climatologist. The dynamics of clouds in the Industrial Revolution, when fossil fuels were still underground, are still unknown.

The help of technology

The atmosphere is understood as an extraordinarily complicated 3D system that extends for miles. There, temperatures, humidity and winds are constantly changing. At this point, anthropogenic aerosols are extremely complicated and climate change becomes “almost” unpredictable for scholars of the subject because of the number of variables to be addressed.

No supercomputer has been able to capture the complexity of the interaction between particles and clouds. It can be said, according to scientist Hailong Wang, that we are dealing with a swirling soup of systems that are constantly interacting. This situation makes it complex to predict whether with a given fossil fuel consumption and X reduction of aerosols such a reality can be achieved.