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Greenhouse gas versus aerosol forcing and African climate response

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There are many indicators that human activity may change climate conditions all around the globe through emissions of greenhouse gases. In addition, aerosol particles are emitted from various natural and anthropogenic sources. One important source of aerosols arises from biomass burning, particularly in low latitudes where shifting cultivation and land degradation lead to enhanced aerosol burden. In this study the counteracting effects of greenhouse gases and aerosols on African climate are compared using climate model experiments with fully interactive aerosols from different sources. The consideration of aerosol emissions induces a remarkable decrease in short-wave solar irradiation near the surface, especially in winter and autumn in tropical West Africa and the Congo Basin where biomass burning is mainly prevailing. This directly leads to a modification of the surface energy budget with reduced sensible heat fluxes. As a consequence, temperature decreases, compensating the strong warming signal due to enhanced trace gas concentrations. While precipitation in tropical Africa is less sensitive to the greenhouse warming, it tends to decrease, if the effect of aerosols from biomass burning is taken into account. This is partly due to the local impact of enhanced aerosol burden and partly to modifications of the large-scale monsoon circulation in the lower troposphere, usually lagging behind the season with maximum aerosol emissions. In the model equilibrium experiments, the greenhouse gas impact on temperature stands out from internal variability at various time scales from daily to decadaland the same holds for precipitation under the additional aerosol forcing. Greenhouse gases and aerosols exhibit an opposite effect on daily temperature extremes, resulting in an compensation of the individual responses under the combined forcing. In terms of precipitation, daily extreme events tend to be reduced under aerosol forcing, particularly over the tropical Atlantic and the Congo basin. These results suggest that the simulation of the multiple aerosol effects from anthropogenic sources represents an important factor in tropical climate change, hence, requiring more attention in climate modelling attempts.

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