Contrasting Trends of Mass and Optical Properties of Aerosols Over the Northern Hemisphere from 1992 to 2011
Atmospheric aerosols affect both human health and climate. PMX is the mass concentration of aerosol particles that have aerodynamic diameters less than X mu m, PM10 was initially selected to measure the environmental impact of aerosols. Recently, it was realized that fine particles are more hazardous than larger ones and should be measured. Consequently, observational data for PM2.5 have been obtained but only for a much shorter period than that of PM10. Optical extinction of aerosols, the inverse of meteorological visibility, is sensitive to particles less than 1.0 mu m. These fine particles only account for a small part of total mass of aerosols although they are very efficient in light extinction. Comparisons are made between PM10 and PM2.5 over the period when the latter is available and with visibility data for a longer period. PM10 has decreased by 44% in Europe from 1992 to 2009, 33% in the US from 1993 to 2010, 10% in Canada from 1994 to 2009, and 26% in China from 2000 to 2011. However, in contrast, aerosol optical extinction has increased 7% in the US, 10% in Canada, and 18% in China during the above study periods. The reduction of optical extinction over Europe of 5% is also much less than the 44% reduction in PM10. Over its short period of record PM2.5 decreased less than PM10. Hence, PM10 is neither a good measure of changes in smaller particles nor of their long-term trends, a result that has important implications for both climate impact and human health effects. The increased fraction of anthropogenic aerosol emission, such as from vehicle exhaust, to total atmospheric aerosols partly explains this contrasting trend of optical and mass properties of aerosols.