Black smog is reversing the effects of global warming in India, according to Veerabhadi Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. Pollution across the Indian subcontinent is shielding the sun and lowering the winter temperature several degrees.

Scientists say the smog particles are cooling the land by absorbing solar radiation before it reaches the surface. But the bad news is that the particles could be redistributing that heat to other parts of the earth, warming nearby regions of Asia and beyond.

Smog is common in modern India, as the country burns more coal and oil in power stations, factories and vehicle engines. “Air pollution has more than doubled in the South Asian region during the last 20 years,” says the research team. Black carbon and sulfur dioxide accumulate in the air during the winter months, creating a brown haze that extends out across the Indian Ocean. Winter is when most fuel is burned, but it?s also the season there is no rain. The daily rains of the summer monsoon help clean the air.

In 2001, Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen warned that the India smog was blotting out up to 15 per cent of sunlight and threatened “very major consequences” for the region’s climate. Now Ramanathan and his colleague, R. Krishnan of the Institute of Tropical Meteorology in India, have examined climate records going back more than a century. They show that India’s summer temperatures continue to follow global trends. But winter temperatures have begun to cool in the past 30 years, coinciding with the smog build-up.

The researchers warn that the soot particles that absorb the solar radiation over India may travel outside the region, adding to global warming elsewhere. “This is a matter of serious concern to the environment, mankind and the ecosystem at large,” says Krishnan.

Jeffrey Kiehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado says, “At present these effects are not generally accounted for in climate model predictions.”

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