Clearing the fog: an end to clouded climate predictions
Limited understanding of the role of aerosols in our climate system means a lack of policies addressing them. The EU-funded BACCHUS project aims to expand understanding of how clouds are affected, providing the knowledge for improved climate models and projections, and - eventually - more effective policies for sustainability and climate change mitigation.
© Photobank - fotolia.com
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified the role of aerosols in our climate system as a key area for further research in the fight against climate change. In response, the EU set up a research cluster entitled Aerosols and Climate comprising three projects, each investigating the impact of aerosols on different elements of the atmosphere.
BACCHUS is one of these projects, and focuses on aerosol interactions with clouds in a bid to increase understanding the impact of aerosols on clouds and climate. The results could lead to improved climate projections.
Aerosols are small particles or droplets suspended in the air. They have the ability to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight back to space, but can also warm the planet by absorbing and emitting thermal radiation, much like greenhouse gases. Aerosols can emanate from both natural (e.g. sea spray) and man-made (e.g. soot emissions) sources and can significantly affect the properties of clouds.
BACCHUS is developing a database of long-term observations, field and laboratory data on the physical and chemical properties of aerosol particles. The project consortium will use this data to decipher the processes associated with aerosol-cloud interaction and use them to validate and improve the description of aerosols and clouds in climate and earth system models. This understanding is currently missing from earth system models.
The project team will also use the data collected to identify key processes controlling cloud systems in different environments (the Arctic, the Amazon rainforest), enabling researchers to determine the relative role of natural versus human-based aerosol emissions.
The project results will feed into further IPCC reports, and should encourage politicians to develop more effective and appropriate strategies and policies for climate change mitigation.