July 8, 1999 Reducing future emissions of sulfur dioxide in an attempt to mitigate the acid-rain problem may aggravate the global-warming problem, a University of Illinois professor says.
"In the atmosphere, sulfur dioxide gas emitted by burning coal and oil is converted into sulfate aerosols that enhance the reflection of solar radiation, thereby tending to cool Earth's surface," said Michael Schlesinger, a U. of I. atmospheric scientist. "In recent studies, we found that decreasing the sulfur dioxide emissions led to significant regional warming in North America, Europe and Asia."
The studies were based on provisional greenhouse-gas and sulfur dioxide emissions developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is producing a Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, in part as background for the IPCC Third Assessment Report scheduled to be completed in 2001. In the special report there are four scenario families for the future emissions of greenhouse gases and sulfur dioxide.
To explore the potential effects, Schlesinger and his U. of I. colleagues -- Sergey Malyshev, Eugene Rozanov, Fanglin Yang and Natalia Andronova -- first used a simple climate/ocean model to calculate the change in global-mean surface temperature for the sulfur dioxide emissions of the four Special Report scenarios, as well as for the non-interventionist IS92a scenario of the IPCC Second Assessment Report.
"These global-mean temperatures were then used to scale the geographical distributions of temperature change simulated by our atmospheric general circulation/mixed-layer-ocean model for a tenfold increase in present-day sulfur dioxide emissions, both individually and jointly from six geographical regions," Schlesinger said.
The increasing sulfur dioxide emissions of the IS92a scenario result in a cooling contribution that helps to offset some of the greenhouse gas-induced warming, Schlesinger said, but the decreasing sulfur dioxide emissions of the four SRES scenarios result in the opposite: a significant warming of portions of North America, Europe and the North Atlantic, and Siberia.
"Thus it appears that mitigation of the acid-rain problem by future reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions exacerbates the greenhouse-warming problem by enhancing the warming in and near the regions where the sulfur dioxide emissions are reduced," Schlesinger said.
Schlesinger presented the group's findings in Bonn, Germany, at a joint meeting of the IPCC and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
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