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Anomalous Increase in Winter Temperature and Decline in Forest Growth Associated with Severe Winter Smog in the Ulan Bator Basin

Hauck, Markus, Dulamsuren, Choimaa, Leuschner, Christoph
Water, air, and soil pollution 2016 v.227 no.8 pp. 261
Larix, adverse effects, aerosols, air, air pollution, basins, carbon, combustion, dendroclimatology, drought, ecosystems, forest decline, forest growth, forests, fuels, global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, herbivores, particulates, radiative forcing, sulfur dioxide, summer, temperature, trees, winter, Mongolia, Polar Regions
A dramatic increase in winter (December–February) temperature by 7.2 K (1.1 K per decade) since 1950 has occurred in the Ulan Bator basin, Mongolia. This increase in temperature strongly exceeds the global average of late twentieth century warming and even exceeds warming in most of the polar regions with pronounced increases in temperature. The exceptional warming is restricted to Ulan Bator within the Mongolian forest-steppe region and to wintertime. This suggests that the observed warming could result from radiative forcing by black carbon aerosols. In winter, Ulan Bator’s air is heavily polluted by particulate matter, including black carbon, originating from the combustion of low-quality fuel at low temperature. Winter smog has strongly increased in recent decades, concomitant to the increase in winter temperature, as the result of a strong increase in the city’s population. Exponential growth of Ulan Bator’s population started in the mid-twentieth century, but since 1990, altered socioeconomic frame conditions and a warming climate have driven more than 700,000 pastoralists from rural Mongolia to Ulan Bator where people live in provisional dwellings and cause Ulan Bator’s heavy air pollution. Tree-ring analysis from larch trees growing at the edge of the Ulan Bator basin shows negative correlation of stem increment with December temperature. This result suggests that milder winters promote herbivores and, thus, reduce the tree’s productivity. The negative impact of winter warming on the larch forests adds to adverse effects of summer drought and the impact of high sulfur dioxide emissions. Winter warming putatively associated with high atmospheric concentrations of black carbon aerosols in the Ulan Bator basin is an interesting example of a case where greenhouse gas-mediated climate warming in an area where people themselves hardly contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions affects both humans and ecosystems and causes additional local climate warming.