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Amplification of Arctic warming by past air pollution reductions in Europe

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 01 June 2016

This article has been updated


The Arctic region is warming considerably faster than the rest of the globe1, with important consequences for the ecosystems2 and human exploration of the region3. However, the reasons behind this Arctic amplification are not entirely clear4. As a result of measures to enhance air quality, anthropogenic emissions of particulate matter and its precursors have drastically decreased in parts of the Northern Hemisphere over the past three decades5. Here we present simulations with an Earth system model with comprehensive aerosol physics and chemistry that show that the sulfate aerosol reductions in Europe since 1980 can potentially explain a significant fraction of Arctic warming over that period. Specifically, the Arctic region receives an additional 0.3 W m−2 of energy, and warms by 0.5 °C on annual average in simulations with declining European sulfur emissions in line with historical observations, compared with a model simulation with fixed European emissions at 1980 levels. Arctic warming is amplified mainly in fall and winter, but the warming is initiated in summer by an increase in incoming solar radiation as well as an enhanced poleward oceanic and atmospheric heat transport. The simulated summertime energy surplus reduces sea-ice cover, which leads to a transfer of heat from the Arctic Ocean to the atmosphere. We conclude that air quality regulations in the Northern Hemisphere, the ocean and atmospheric circulation, and Arctic climate are inherently linked.

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Figure 1: SO2 emissions employed in the Historical and Fixed EUR emission simulations and the effect on global and Arctic surface temperature.
Figure 2: Effect of reduced European sulfate (SO2 + SO4) emissions on different climate variables.
Figure 3: Effect of reduced European sulfate (SO2 + SO4) emissions on energy budget.

Change history

  • 05 May 2016

    In the version of the Letter originally published, the following reference was mistakenly omitted: '27. Yang, Q., Bitz, C. M. & Doherty, S. J. Offsetting effects of aerosols on Arctic and global climate in the late 20th century. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 14, 3969–3975 (2014).' This should have been cited with ref. 25 at the end of the sentence beginning 'Over the past 100 years...'. The original refs 27–31 have been renumbered accordingly. This has been corrected in the online versions of the Letter.


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A. Asmi is acknowledged for help with the observational data. This work benefited from discussions with R. G. Graversen, A. Lewinschal, G. Messori, M. Salter, J. Nilsson and F. Pausata. The research leading to these results has received funding from the Nordic Centres of Excellence CRAICC and eSTICC, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency projects SCAC and CLEO, Norwegian Research Council projects EVA (grant no. 229771) and NOTUR (nn2345k), European FP7 Integrated projects PEGASOS (no. 265148) and ACCESS, and European Research Council Grant ATMOGAIN (no. 278277). The Swedish National Supercomputing Centre and NordStore (project ns2345k) are acknowledged for computational resources for running the simulations.

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The study was designed by A.M.L.E., H.-C.H., T.I. and I.R. The simulations were conducted and analysed by J.C.A.N., V.V., Ø.S., A.K. and H.S. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results and writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to A. M. L. Ekman.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Acosta Navarro, J., Varma, V., Riipinen, I. et al. Amplification of Arctic warming by past air pollution reductions in Europe. Nature Geosci 9, 277–281 (2016).

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