Human impact on the atmospheric sulfur balance

Article English OPEN
Rodhe, Henning (2011)

The paper reviews the development in our understanding of the atmospheric part of the global sulfur cycle, including the role played by C.-G. Rossby and his colleagues in the 1950s, and presents a brief assessment of the current knowledge. Measurements of the concentrations of sulfur compounds in air, precipitation, ice cores and sea water during the past 25 years, together with recent development in three-dimensional tracer transport modeling, have resulted in a reasonably consistent picture of the burdens and fluxes of the main sulfur compounds in the atmosphere. It is clear that man's activities, in particular the burning of fossil fuels, are having a large impact on the atmospheric sulfur balance. Even on a global scale, the man-made emissions of gaseous sulfur compounds are likely to be two to three times as large as the natural sources. In and around the most heavily industrialized regions this ratio exceeds ten over extended areas. Nevertheless, there are several important issues that need to be resolved. Some of these are directly linked to the urgent problem of reducing the uncertainty in the estimate of direct and, in particular, indirect climate forcing due to man-made sulfate aerosols. One such issue is the magnitude of the wet scavenging of SO2 and aerosol sulfate during upward transport into and within the free troposphere in connection with convective and frontal cloud systems which has a decisive influence on the sulfate concentrations in the upper troposphere. Another uncertain process is the rate of oxidation of SO2 in cloud droplets and on aerosol particles. A fundamental question that remains to be answered is to what degree man-made sulfur emissions have increased the number of aerosol particles that can act as cloud condensation nuclei.DOI: 10.1034/j.1600-0889.1999.00009.x
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