Aerosol optical properties and radiative forcing in the high Himalaya based on measurements at the Nepal Climate Observatory-Pyramid site (5079 m a.s.l.)
Intense anthropogenic emissions over the Indian sub-continent lead to the formation of layers of particulate pollution that can be transported to the high altitude regions of the Himalaya-Hindu-Kush (HKH). Aerosol particles contain a substantial fraction of strongly absorbing material, including black carbon (BC), organic compounds (OC), and dust all of which can contribute to atmospheric warming, in addition to greenhouse gases. Using a 3-year record of continuous measurements of aerosol optical properties, we present a time series of key climate relevant aerosol properties including the aerosol absorption (sigma(ap)) and scattering (sigma(sp)) coefficients as well as the single-scattering albedo (w(0)). Results of this investigation show substantial seasonal variability of these properties, with long range transport during the pre- and post-monsoon seasons and efficient precipitation scavenging of aerosol particles during the monsoon season. The monthly averaged scattering coefficients range from 0.1 Mm(-1) (monsoon) to 20 Mm(-1) while the average absorption coefficients range from 0.5 Mm(-1) to 3.5 Mm(-1). Both have their maximum values during the pre-monsoon period (April) and reach a minimum during Monsoon (July-August). This leads to dry w(0) values from 0.86 (pre- monsoon) to 0.79 (monsoon) seasons. Significant diurnal variability due to valley wind circulation is also reported. Using aerosol optical depth (AOD) measurements, we calculated the resulting direct local radiative forcing due to aerosols for selected air mass cases. We found that the presence of absorbing particulate material can locally induce an additional top of the atmosphere (TOA) forcing of 10 to 20 W m(-2) for the first atmospheric layer (500 m above surface). The TOA positive forcing depends on the presence of snow at the surface, and takes place preferentially during episodes of regional pollution occurring on a very regular basis in the Himalayan valleys. Warming of the first atmospheric layer is paralleled by a substantial decrease of the amount of radiation reaching the surface. The surface forcing is estimated to range from -4 to -20 W m(-2) for small-scale regional pollution events and large-scale pollution events, respectively. The calculated surface forcing is also very dependent on surface albedo, with maximum values occurring over a snow-covered surface. Overall, this work presents the first estimates of aerosol direct radiative forcing over the high Himalaya based on in-situ aerosol measurements, and results suggest a TOA forcing significantly greater than the IPCC reported values for green house gases.