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Anthropogenic influence on the distribution of tropospheric sulphate aerosol


HUMAN activities have increased global emissions of sulphur gases by about a factor of three during the past century, leading to increased sulphate aerosol concentrations, mainly in the Northern Hemisphere. Sulphate aerosols can affect the climate directly, by increasing the backscattering of solar radiation in cloud-free air, and indirectly, by providing additional cloud condensation nuclei1–4. Here we use a global transport–chemistry model to estimate the changes in the distribution of tropospheric sulphate aerosol and deposition of non-seasalt sulphur that have occurred since pre-industrial times. The increase in sulphate aerosol concentration is small over the Southern Hemisphere oceans, but reaches a factor of 100 over northern Europe in winter. Our calculations indicate, however, that at most 6% of the anthropogenic sulphur emissions is available for the formation of new aerosol particles. This is because about one-half of the sulphur dioxide is deposited on the Earth's surface, and most of the remainder is oxidized in cloud droplets so that the sulphate becomes associated with pre-existing particles. Even so, the rate of formation of new sulphate particles may have doubled since pre-industrial times.

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Langner, J., Rodhe, H., Crutzen, P. et al. Anthropogenic influence on the distribution of tropospheric sulphate aerosol. Nature 359, 712–716 (1992).

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