Chinese lockdown as aerosol reduction experiment


The lockdown of large parts of Chinese economy beginning in late January 2020 lead to significant regional changes of aerosol loads, which suggests a reduction of backscatter and consequently a regional warming in the following months. Using local data and a numerical experiment with a limited area model, we have examined how strong this response may have been. The observed (local and reanalysis) observations point to a warming of less than 1.0 K, the simulations to a warming of the order of 0.5 K. These numbers are uncertain, because of large-scale natural variability and an ad-hoc choice of aerosol optical depth anomaly in the simulation. Thus, the result was, in short, that there was actually a weak warming of a few tenth of degrees, while noteworthy changes in circulation or in precipitation were not detected. More specifically, we found that at selected central China stations temperatures were found to be higher than in previous two years. This warming goes with a marked diurnal signal, with a maximum warming in the early afternoon (06 UTC), weakest at night (18 UTC). This may be related to a general warming of large swaths of Asia (including Siberia, which is not related to local aerosol forcing). Indeed, also the stations outside the immediate strong lockdown region are showing warming, albeit a weaker one. Thus, the difference 2020 minus 2019/2018 may overestimate the effect. The ad-hoc series of numerical experiments indicates that the simulated changes are robust and suffer little from internal dynamical variability. In particular, the overall reduction of the aerosol optical depth does not lead to phases of larger intermittent divergence among the model simulations, irrespective of the aerosol load. Instead, the simulations with reduced anthropogenic aerosol load show more a mere locally increased temperature. This may indicate that the aerosol effect is mostly thermodynamic in all local air columns in the region.
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