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Cleaner air, less haze is warming the planet

Research based on satellite readings of the Earth’s atmosphere show improvements in air quality are causing temperatures to rise as the planet is exposed to more solar rays and radiation. 

A new study on the influence of global air pollution based on a range of observations from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites suggest recorded levels have dropped 30% since 2000.

However, this fall has effectively boosted total warming from carbon dioxide emitted over the same time by between 15 and 50%, according to Johannes Quaas, a leading climate scientists at Leipzig University. 

sun setting over the mountains

This is due to a reduction in pollution particles that actively repel sunlight, offsetting a proportion of the potential warming. For example, reflective sulfate and nitrate from car exhausts, ship flues, and power plants, both of which have a cooling effect.

Levels of these emissions have been significantly reduced in regions like North America and Europe due to environmental and emissions policies, with China, another major polluter, taking action from 2010. Simply put, this means there are less particles in the atmosphere capable of blocking and reflecting energy from the sun, leading to an uptick in global temperatures. 

In May, the UK Met Office issued a warning there was a ’50-50′ chance of breaching the 1.5C limit on global warming within the next five years, with the hottest year in history expected to be recorded between 2022 and 2026, beating the current record set between 2016 and 2020. Governments have agreed to a maximum limit for worldwide annual temperature increase of 2C above pre-industrial levels, although scientists are agreed this scenario would still prove catastrophic for life on Earth. 

Image credit: Raimond Klavins

 

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