How well do Earth system models reproduce the observed aerosol response to rapid emission reductions? A COVID-19 case study

Digby, Ruth A. R.; Gillett, Nathan P.; Monahan, Adam H.; von Salzen, Knut; Gkikas, Antonis; Song, Qianqian; Zhang, Zhibo

The spring 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns led to a rapid reduction in aerosol and aerosol precursor emissions. These emission reductions provide a unique opportunity for model evaluation and to assess the potential efficacy of future emission control measures. We investigate changes in observed regional aerosol optical depth (AOD) during the COVID-19 lockdowns and use these observed anomalies to evaluate Earth system model simulations forced with COVID-19-like reductions in aerosols and greenhouse gases. Most anthropogenic source regions do not exhibit statistically significant changes in satellite retrievals of total or dust-subtracted AOD, despite the dramatic economic and lifestyle changes associated with the pandemic. Of the regions considered, only India exhibits an AOD anomaly that exceeds internal variability. Earth system models reproduce the observed responses reasonably well over India but initially appear to overestimate the magnitude of response in East China and when averaging over the Northern Hemisphere (0–70inline-formula N) as a whole. We conduct a series of sensitivity tests to systematically assess the contributions of internal variability, model input uncertainty, and observational sampling to the aerosol signal, and we demonstrate that the discrepancies between observed and simulated AOD can be partially resolved through the use of an updated emission inventory. The discrepancies can also be explained in part by characteristics of the observational datasets. Overall our results suggest that current Earth system models have potential to accurately capture the effects of future emission reductions.

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Digby, Ruth A. R. / Gillett, Nathan P. / Monahan, Adam H. / et al: How well do Earth system models reproduce the observed aerosol response to rapid emission reductions? A COVID-19 case study. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Ruth A. R. Digby et al.

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