The role of mineral-dust aerosols in polar temperature amplification


Changes in global temperature are generally more marked in high than in low latitudes, an effect referred to as polar amplification1,2,3. Model simulations of future climate suggest a marked response of high-latitude climate due to elevated greenhouse-gas concentrations and associated albedo feedbacks4. However, most climate models struggle to reproduce the amplitude of polar temperature change observed in palaeoclimatic archives3 and may carry this bias into future predictions. With the example of mineral dust we show that some atmospheric aerosols experience an amplified high-latitude response to global changes as well, a phenomenon generally not captured by the models. Using a synthesis of observational and model data we reconstruct atmospheric dust concentrations for Holocene and Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) conditions. Radiative forcing calculations based on our new dust concentration reconstructions suggest that the impact of aerosols in polar areas is underestimated in model simulations for dustier-than-modern conditions. In the future, some simulations predict an increase in aridity in dust source areas5. Other aerosols such as black carbon and sulphates are likely to increase as well6,7. We therefore suggest that the inclusion of the amplified high-latitude response of aerosols in atmospheric models would improve the assessment of LGM and future polar amplification.

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Figure 1: Holocene to LGM amplification factors in temperature and dust flux.
Figure 2: Polar amplification in temperature and dust loads.
Figure 3: Holocene to LGM changes in surface clear-sky short-wave radiative forcing at polar sites compared with a low-latitude site.


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This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (Grant NRF-2009-C1AAA001-2009-0093042) funded by the Korean government (MEST), and KIOST (PE98801). R.J.P. was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the NRF of Korea funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (2009-0093459). T.T. was supported by the Funding Program for Next Generation World-Leading Researchers by the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (GR079).

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F.L. wrote the paper, performed the experiments and analysed the data. F.L. and J-S.K. designed the research. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Correspondence to J-S. Kug.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Lambert, F., Kug, J., Park, R. et al. The role of mineral-dust aerosols in polar temperature amplification. Nature Clim Change 3, 487–491 (2013).

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