Global dimming and brightening: A review



[1] There is increasing evidence that the amount of solar radiation incident at the Earth's surface is not stable over the years but undergoes significant decadal variations. Here I review the evidence for these changes, their magnitude, their possible causes, their representation in climate models, and their potential implications for climate change. The various studies analyzing long-term records of surface radiation measurements suggest a widespread decrease in surface solar radiation between the 1950s and 1980s (“global dimming”), with a partial recovery more recently at many locations (“brightening”). There are also some indications for an “early brightening” in the first part of the 20th century. These variations are in line with independent long-term observations of sunshine duration, diurnal temperature range, pan evaporation, and, more recently, satellite-derived estimates, which add credibility to the existence of these changes and their larger-scale significance. Current climate models, in general, tend to simulate these decadal variations to a much lesser degree. The origins of these variations are internal to the Earth's atmosphere and not externally forced by the Sun. Variations are not only found under cloudy but also under cloud-free atmospheres, indicative of an anthropogenic contribution through changes in aerosol emissions governed by economic developments and air pollution regulations. The relative importance of aerosols, clouds, and aerosol-cloud interactions may differ depending on region and pollution level. Highlighted are further potential implications of dimming and brightening for climate change, which may affect global warming, the components and intensity of the hydrological cycle, the carbon cycle, and the cryosphere among other climate elements.