Decline of fog, mist and haze in Europe over the past 30 years

Abstract

Surface solar radiation has undergone decadal variations since the middle of the twentieth century, producing global ‘dimming’ and ‘brightening’ effects1,2. These variations presumably result from changes in aerosol burden and clouds3, but the detailed processes involved have yet to be determined. Over Europe, the marked solar radiation increase since the 1980s is thought to have contributed to the observed large continental warming4, but this contribution has not been quantified. Here we analyse multidecadal data of horizontal visibility, and find that the frequency of low-visibility conditions such as fog, mist and haze has declined in Europe over the past 30 years, for all seasons and all visibility ranges between distances of 0 and 8 km. This decline is spatially and temporally correlated with trends in sulphur dioxide emissions, suggesting a significant contribution of air-quality improvements. Statistically linking local visibility changes with temperature variations, we estimate that the reduction in low-visibility conditions could have contributed on average to about 10–20% of Europe’s recent daytime warming and to about 50% of eastern European warming. Large improvements in air quality and visibility already achieved in Europe over the past decades may mean that future reductions in the frequency of low-visibility events will be limited, possibly leading to less rapid regional warming.

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Figure 1: Time evolution of the number of low-visibility days.
Figure 2: Frequency of the low-visibility days and its trend.
Figure 3: Low-visibility frequency trend and SO2 emission reductions.
Figure 4: Low-visibility radiation and temperature.

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Acknowledgements

We are thankful to the Dutch (KNMI), German (DWD) and Swiss (Meteo Swiss) weather services for having provided us with the data used to construct Supplementary Information, Fig. S1. The authors would like to acknowledge the SIRTA observatory staff (http://sirta.ipsl.polytechnique.fr) for graciously providing the radiation data used in this study.

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Contributions

G.J.v.O. first discovered trends in visibility in Dutch data, and initiated the work. R.V. generalised the work over Europe, planned the experiments and analysed most data. P.Y. did all quality control and part of the statistical analysis. All co-authors produced some of the figures and parts of the text.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert Vautard.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information, Fig. S1

Supplementary Information (PDF 279 kb)

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Vautard, R., Yiou, P. & van Oldenborgh, G. Decline of fog, mist and haze in Europe over the past 30 years. Nature Geosci 2, 115–119 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo414

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