Aerosols and the Climate Bathtub

From RealClimate:

Over the mid-20th century, sulfate precursor emissions appear to have been so large that they more then compensated for greenhouse gases, leading to a slight cooling in the Northern Hemisphere. During the last 3 decades, the reduction in sulfate has reversed that cooling, and allowed the effects of greenhouse gases to clearly show. In addition, black carbon aerosols lead to warming, and these have increased during the last 3 decades.

For an analogy, picture a reservoir. Say that around the 1930s, rainfall into the watershed supplying the reservoir began to increase. However, around the same time, a leak developed in the dam. The lake level stayed fairly constant as the rainfall increased at about the same rate the leak grew over the next few decades. Finally, the leak was patched (in the early 70s). Over the next few decades, the lake level increased rapidly. Now, what’s the cause of that increase? Is it fair to say that lake level went up because the leak was fixed? Remember that if the rainfall hadn’t been steadily increasing, then the leak would have led to a drop in lake levels whereas fixing it would have brought the levels back to normal. However, it’s also incomplete to ignore the leak, because then it seems puzzling that the lake levels were flat despite the increased rain during the first few decades and that, were you to compare the increased rain with the lake level rise, you’d find the rise was more rapid during the past three decades than you could explain by the rain changes during that period. You need both factors to understand what happened, as you need both greenhouse gases and aerosols to explain the surface temperature observations (and the situation is more complex than this simple analogy due to the presence of both cooling and warming types of aerosols).

Read the rest: Yet More Aerosols