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Aerosol pollution slows down winds and reduces rainfall

The winds that blow near the surface of the Earth have two beneficial effects: They provide a renewable source of clean energy and they evaporate water, helping rain clouds to build up. But aerosolized particles created from vehicle exhaust and other contaminants can accumulate in the atmosphere and reduce the speed of winds closer to the Earth's surface, which results in less wind power available for wind-turbine electricity and also in reduced precipitation, according to a study by Stanford and NASA researchers.

''These aerosol particles are having an effect worldwide on the wind speeds over land; there's a slowing down of the wind, feeding back to the rainfall too,'' says civil and environmental engineering Associate Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, co-author of the study with the late Yoram J. Kaufman from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, who died in May 2006. ''We're finding a reduction of rain, and that can lead to droughts and reduction of water supply.''

Jacobson and Kaufman's study, based on NASA satellite data of aerosol accumulation, measurements of wind speeds over the South Coast Basin in California and in China, and computer model simulations over California as a whole and the South Coast Basin, was published online Dec. 27 in Geophysical Research Letters. The researchers used both the model and data to study the effects of aerosol particles on wind speed and rainfall.

Slower winds, less rain

Aerosol particles floating in the atmosphere absorb or scatter solar radiation, and prevent it from getting to the ground. This cools the Earth's surface and reduces daytime vertical convection that mixes the slower winds found near the ground with the faster winds at higher altitudes. The overall effect is a reduction in the speed of near-surface winds, which Jacobson has calculated to be up to 8 percent slower in California.

Clean and renewable, wind power made up 1.5 percent of the Golden State's en
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Contact: Dawn Levy
dawnlevy@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
22-Jan-2007


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