Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Heavy pollution suppresses light rain in China: Observations and modeling

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Abstract

[1] Long-term observational data reveal that both the frequency and amount of light rain have decreased in eastern China (EC) for 1956–2005 with high spatial coherency. This is different from the trend of total rainfall observed in EC, which decreases in northern EC and increases in southern EC. To examine the cause of the light rain trends, we analyzed the long-term variability of atmospheric water vapor and its correlation with light rain events. Results show very weak relationships between large-scale moisture transport and light rain in EC. Because of human activities, pollutant emission has increased dramatically in China for the last few decades, leading to a significant reduction in visibility between 1960 and 2000. Cloud-resolving model simulations over EC show that aerosols corresponding to polluted conditions can significantly increase the cloud droplet number concentration (CDNC) and reduce droplet sizes compared to pristine conditions. This can lead to a significant decline in raindrop concentration and delay raindrop formation because smaller cloud droplets are less efficient in the collision and coalescence processes. Together with weaker convection, the precipitation frequency and amount are significantly reduced in the polluted case in EC. Satellite data also reveal higher CDNC and smaller droplet size over polluted land in EC relative to pristine regions, which is consistent with the model results. Observational evidences and simulations results suggest that the significantly increased aerosol concentrations produced by air pollution are at least partly responsible for the decreased light rain events observed in China over the past 50 years.

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