Environment, Geography, GS-1, GS-3, Uncategorized

Aerosols, land-use changes may greatly weaken monsoon

The South Asian Monsoon has been weakening since the 1950s with an increased incidence of extreme rainfall events.

The monsoon is mainly driven by thermal contrast between the Indian subcontinent and the adjoining ocean. As the land warms up the air above the land surface is heated and rises up and is less dense than the cool air over the ocean. This contrast in temperatures and densities causes the cool moisture bearing winds from the western Indian Ocean to move into the land mass and bring monsoon rains to the subcontinent.

This scenario, however is changed due to the presence of greenhouse gases, aerosols in the atmosphere or if the land has been subjected to increased deforestation. Greenhouse gases trap the heat over land and sea and result in both the land and sea being warm, that is the thermal contrast is greatly reduced. This leads to a weakening of the monsoon circulation and the result is a weakened monsoon.

However, a warmed up atmosphere can hold more moisture and this situation can result in heavy rainfall over some regions.

Anthropogenic atmospheric aerosols, including sulphates, black carbon, nitrates and dust accumulate over the Indo-gangetic plains. These reduce incoming solar radiation over northern India and the northern Indian Ocean and lead to cooling on both land and sea resulting in a lowered thermal contrast.

Hence, monsoon winds and circulation are weakened as both land and sea are cooled. Evaporation is also suppressed. Over South Asia, over 50 per cent of aerosol emissions are caused by biomass and agricultural burning. There is mounting evidence of the emissions from South Asia and China in changing the timing, spatial distribution and strength of the monsoon.

However, negative impacts of these aerosols can be reduced quickly as they have a short lifetime of few weeks compared to GHGs which can stay in the atmosphere for up to 80 years.

Reduced land cover (deforestation by humans) increases the reflectivity (albedo effect) which leads to cooling of land in contrast to the ocean and results in a weakened monsoon circulation.

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