Aerosols are tiny particles, liquid or solid, that are suspended in the air. You’re probably familiar with the word from spray-paint or hairspray, and if you’d old enough, you may remember hearing that they were bad for the ozone layer. Well, there are lots of things that fall into the aerosol category, including naturally occurring things like dust or sea salt, but also things like carbon produced by burning fossil fuels.
When everything is working properly, most aerosols end up being washed out of the air by precipitation, but according to a new study at the University of California, Riverside, that’s going to be happening less and less in the future, thanks to our old friend global climate change.
There is a measure of aerosol “burden,” which is the mass of aerosols within a vertical column of air. Now, normally, that burden is kept down by precipitation, which brings many of the aerosols down to the earth. However, as we’ve seen in the last few summers, precipitation rates are changing as a result of climate change, with many regions, like the American West, seeing a lot less rain on average.
According to the study, that means that the air will be burdened with more aerosols than normal, which could have a variety of effects. On the less worrying end of that list is that the air will likely be “hazier” more often. Visibility might be reduced in some places, so if you’re familiar with the idea of smog, you might know what we’re in for. More worrisome though is the fact that aerosols, in high numbers, can interfere with the planet’s radiative balance, because they scatter or absorb light that wouldn’t otherwise have been interfered with. That can compound the issues of global warming, and in turn make the issue even worse.