Asian brown cloud

This article is about the Indian Ocean brown cloud. For China, see Air pollution in China.
Atmospheric Brown Cloud over China
Big Brown Cloud Storm over Asia

The Indian Ocean brown cloud or Asian brown cloud is a layer of air pollution that recurrently covers parts of South Asia, namely the northern Indian Ocean, India, and Pakistan.[1][2] Viewed from satellite photos, the cloud appears as a giant brown stain hanging in the air over much of South Asia and the Indian Ocean every year between January and March, possibly also during earlier and later months. The term was coined in reports from the UNEP Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX).[3]

The term atmospheric brown cloud is used for a more generic context not specific to the Asian region.[4]


The Asian brown cloud is created by a range of airborne particles and pollutants from combustion (e.g., woodfires, cars, and factories), biomass burning[5] and industrial processes with incomplete burning.[6] The cloud is associated with the winter monsoon (November/December to April) during which there is no rain to wash pollutants from the air.[7]


This pollution layer was observed during the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX) intensive field observation in 1999 and described in the UNEP impact assessment study published 2002.[3] Scientists in India claimed that the Asian Brown cloud is not something specific to Asia.[8] Subsequently, when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) organized a follow-up international project, the subject of study was renamed the Atmospheric Brown Cloud with focus on Asia.

The cloud was also reported by NASA in 2004[9] and 2007.[10]

Although aerosol particles are generally associated with a global cooling effect, recent studies have shown that they can actually have a warming effect in certain regions such as the Himalayas.[11]



One major impact is on health. A 2002 study indicated nearly two million people die each year, in India alone, from conditions related to the brown cloud.[12]

Regional weather

A second assessment study was published in 2008.[13] It highlighted regional concerns regarding:

Cyclone intensity in Arabian Sea

A 2011 study found that pollution is making Arabian Sea cyclones more intense as the atmospheric brown clouds has been producing weakening wind patterns which prevent wind shear patterns that historically have prohibited cyclones in the Arabian Sea from becoming major storms. This phenomena was found responsible for the formation of stronger storms in 2007 and 2010 that were the first recorded storms to enter the Gulf of Oman.[17][18]

Global warming and dimming

The 2008 report also addressed the global concern of warming and concluded that the brown clouds have masked 20 to 80 percent of greenhouse gas forcing in the past century. The report suggested that air pollution regulations can have large amplifying effects on global warming.

Another major impact is on the polar ice caps. Black carbon (soot) in the Asian Brown Cloud may be reflecting sunlight and dimming Earth below but it is warming other places by absorbing incoming radiation and warming the atmosphere and whatever it touches.[19] Black carbon is three times more effective than carbon dioxide—the most common greenhouse gas—at melting polar ice and snow.[20] Black carbon in snow causes about three times the temperature change as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. On snow —even at concentrations below five parts per billion— dark carbon triggers melting, and may be responsible for as much as 94 percent of Arctic warming.[21]

See also


  1. Srinivasan (10 September 2002). "Asian Brown Cloud – fact and fantasy" (PDF). Current Science. 83 (5): 586–592.
  2. Ramanathan, Veerabhadran; Crutzen, P. J.; Lelieveld, J.; Mitra, A. P.; Althausen, D.; Anderson, J.; Andreae, M. O.; Cantrell, W.; et al. (2001). "Indian Ocean experiment: An integrated analysis of the climate forcing and effects of the great Indo-Asian haze". Journal of Geophysical Research. 106 (D22): 28371–28398. Bibcode:2001JGR...10628371R. doi:10.1029/2001JD900133.
  3. 1 2 Ramanathan, Veerabhadran et al. (2002) The Asian brown cloud climate and other environmental impacts: impact study Archived June 5, 2004, at the Wayback Machine. Center for Clouds, Chemistry and Climate, United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi Kenya, ISBN 92-807-2240-9, accessed 8 December 2008
  4. Haag, Amanda Leigh (2007). "The even darker side of brown clouds". Nature Reports Climate Change (709): 52. doi:10.1038/climate.2007.41. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  5. Gustafsson, Örjan; Kruså, Martin; Zencak, Zdenek; Sheesley, R. J.; Granat, Lennart; Engström, Erik; Praveen, P. S.; Rao, P. S. P.; Leck, Caroline; Rodhe, Henning; et al. (2009). "Brown Clouds over South Asia: Biomass or Fossil Fuel Combustion?". Science. 323 (5913): 495–498. Bibcode:2009Sci...323..495G. doi:10.1126/science.1164857. PMID 19164746.
  6. Taylor, David (1 January 2003). "The ABCs of Haze". Environmental Health Perspectives. 111 (1): A20. doi:10.1289/ehp.111-a21a.
  7. Petit, C. W. (2003) "A darkening sky: A smoky shroud over Asia blocks both sun and rain" U.S. News & World Report (17 March 2003), 134(8): pp. 46-8
  8. Pandve, Harshal T. "The Asian Brown Cloud". Retrieved 8 December 2008.
  9. NASA Eyes Effects of a Giant 'Brown Cloud' Worldwide (2004)
  10. Global Aerosol System 2000-2007 (NASA Earth Observatory)
  11. Ramanathan, Veerabhadran; Ramana, MV; Roberts, G; Kim, D; Corrigan, C; Chung, C; Winker, D (2 August 2007). "Warming trends in Asia amplified by brown cloud solar absorption". Nature. 448 (7153): 575–578. Bibcode:2007Natur.448..575R. doi:10.1038/nature06019. PMID 17671499.
  12. Ahmad, K. (2002). "Pollution cloud over south Asia is increasing ill health". Lancet. 360 (9332): 549. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(02)09762-3.
  13. Ramanathan, V. et al. (2008) Atmospheric brown clouds regional assessment report with focus on Asia United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi Kenya,
  14. Brown cloud delaying monsoon.
  15. Paper reporting the delaying of the monsoon being caused by brown cloud
  16. Rotstayn, Leon; Cai, Wenju; Dix, Martin R.; Farquhar, Graham D.; Feng, Yan; Ginoux, Paul; Herzog, Michael; Ito, Akinori; et al. (2 May 2007). "Have Australian rainfall and cloudiness increased due to the remote effects of Asian anthropogenic aerosols?". Journal of Geophysical Research. 112 (D09202): D09202. Bibcode:2007JGRD..11209202R. doi:10.1029/2006JD007712.
  17. "Link Between Air Pollution and Cyclone Intensity in Arabian Sea". National Science Foundation. 2011-11-02. Retrieved 2011-11-07.
  18. Evan, Amato T.; Kossin, James P.; Chung, Chul; Ramanathan, V. (2011-11-03). "Arabian Sea tropical cyclones intensified by emissions of black carbon and other aerosols". Nature. 479 (7371): 94–97. Bibcode:2011Natur.479...94E. doi:10.1038/nature10552. PMID 22051678. Retrieved 2011-11-07.
  19. Biello, David (August 1, 2007). "Brown Haze from Cooking Fires Cooking EarthToo.The brown haze over Asia warms the atmosphere just as much as greenhouse gases.". Scientific American.
  20. Biello, David (June 8, 2007). "Impure as the Driven Snow: Smut is a bigger problem than greenhouse gases in polar meltdown.". Scientific American.
  21. Boswell, Randy (October 19, 2009). "Burning crops darken Arctic sky, speed polar melt.". Canwest News Service.

Further reading

External links

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