The SE Asian Aerosol Plume – The Trigger and Sustaining Cause of all El Niño Events

This poster about  The South East Asian Aerosol Plume was presented by Keith Potts at the conference “Our Common Future Under Climate Change”, commonly referred to as CFCC15, in Paris in July 2015.  CFCC15 was sponsored by the United Nations and the French Government and held mainly at the UNESCO headquarters with some sessions at the University of Pierre and Marie Curie.  It was part of the lead up to the Conference of Parties COP21 meeting in Paris in November and December 2015 to update the scientific understanding of climate science.  Details about COP21 can be found at http://unfccc.int/meetings/paris_nov_2015/meeting/8926/php/view/logistics.php

Keith’s interest in climate science focuses on aerosols, which are solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere, when they exist as continental scale plumes which are as large or larger that Australia.  Natural aerosols include desert dust and volcanic ash whilst anthropogenic, human caused, aerosols include biomass burning and industrial pollution.  Biomass burning aerosols emanate mainly from the tropics and are created by rainforest clearing, agriculture and commercial activity such as logging.  Interestingly one plenary session speaker on the first day of CFCC15 nominated aerosols as the future focus of climate science research.

The poster shows the eight continental scale aerosol plumes which now exist each year and explains how one, the South East Asian aerosol Plume (SEAP) which derives from volcanic ash, biomass burning and gas flares in the oil industry (not the same regulatory regime as Australia), reduces convection in the region of the plume.  As can be seen in the following figure, the plume is a very dominant feature in the SE Asian region:

AOD Oct 2006

Aerosol Optical Depth image showing the South East Asian Plume in October 2006 (NASA data from the Terra satellite and the NASA Giovanni system)

This plume alters the major atmospheric circulation systems, the Hadley and Walker Cells, and thus creates El Niño events, the greatest interannual variation in the global climate. It leads to drought in south eastern Australia, a significant social and economic burden. When this plume existed in October 2006 no rain fell in SE Australia.

Note: Aerosols in this sense have NOTHING TO DO WITH AEROSOL SPRAY CANS.

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