September 2013

Tracing Aerosol Impacts on South Asian Monsoons

The effect of pollution aerosols on monsoons.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, mmj171188

Monsoon clouds gather over the Bay of Bengal in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The Science

Recent studies have suggested various mechanisms and effects for how pollution aerosols in South Asia impact monsoons. This study provides insights into the different ways aerosols affect the South Asian monsoon system.

The Impact

Summer monsoons deliver about three-quarters of South Asia’s annual rainfall, influencing fresh water supplies, agriculture, and energy production. Small changes in monsoons can have large impacts on local living conditions by affecting crop yields, prolonging droughts, or fostering floods.


Aerosols cool the underlying surface and reduce the north-south temperature gradient leading to slow-response climate effects. High-altitude absorbing aerosols may cause short-term, localized enhancement of convective uplift. Using a global climate model with a fully predictive aerosol lifecycle, Department of Energy researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory investigated the fast and slow responses of the South Asian monsoon system to anthropogenic aerosol forcing. They show that the feedbacks associated with the slower sea surface temperature (SST) change caused by aerosols play a more important role than the aerosol’s direct impact on radiation, clouds, and land surface (rapid adjustments) in shaping the total equilibrium climate response of the monsoon system to aerosol forcing. Inhomogeneous SST cooling caused by anthropogenic aerosols eventually reduces the north-south tropospheric temperature gradient and the easterly shear of zonal winds over the region, slowing the local Hadley cell circulation, decreasing the northward moisture transport, and causing a reduction in precipitation over South Asia. Although total responses in precipitation are closer to the slow responses in general, the fast component dominates over land areas north of 25ºN. The results also show an east-west asymmetry in the fast responses to anthropogenic aerosols causing increases in precipitation west of 80ºE but decreases east of it.


D. Ganguly
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
902 Battelle Blvd., PO Box 999, MSIN K9-24
Richland, WA 99352


This research was supported by the DOE Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research program, Climate Change Modeling program.


Ganguly, D., Rasch, P.J., Wang, H., and Yoon, J.-H. “Fast and slow responses of the South Asian monsoon system to anthropogenic aerosolsExternal link.” Geophys. Res. Lett. 39(18), L18804 (2012). [DOI: 10.1029/2012GL053043].

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Program: BER, CESD

Performer/Facility: DOE Laboratory

Last modified: 1/17/2014 4:06:58 PM