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Atmospheric Brown Clouds in the Himalayas: first two years of continuous observations at the Nepal Climate Observatory-Pyramid (5079 m)

Abstract : This paper provides a detailed description of the atmospheric conditions characterizing the high Himalayas, thanks to continuous observations begun in March 2006 at the Nepal Climate Observatory-Pyramid (NCO-P) located at 5079 m a.s.l. on the southern foothills of Mt. Everest, in the framework of ABC-UNEP and SHARE-Ev-K2-CNR projects. The work presents a characterization of meteorological conditions and air-mass circulation at NCO-P during the first two years of activity. The mean values of atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind speed recorded at the site were: 551 hPa, −3.0 °C, 4.7 m s−1, respectively. The highest seasonal values of temperature (1.7 °C) and relative humidity (94%) were registered during the monsoon season, which was also characterized by thick clouds, present in about 80% of the afternoon hours, and by a frequency of cloud-free sky of less than 10%. The lowest temperature and relative humidity seasonal values were registered during winter, −6.3 °C and 22%, respectively, the season being characterised by mainly cloud-free sky conditions and rare thick clouds. The summer monsoon influenced rain precipitation (seasonal mean: 237 mm), while wind was dominated by flows from the bottom of the valley (S-SW) and upper mountain (N-NE). The atmospheric composition at NCO-P has been studied thanks to measurements of black carbon (BC), aerosol scattering coefficient, PM1, coarse particles and ozone. The annual behaviour of the measured parameters shows the highest seasonal values during the pre-monsoon (BC: 316.9 ng m−3, PM1: 3.9 μg m−3, scattering coefficient: 11.9 Mm−1, coarse particles: 0.37 cm−3 and O3: 60.9 ppbv), while the lowest concentrations occurred during the monsoon (BC: 49.6 ng m−3, PM1: 0.6 μg m−3, scattering coefficient: 2.2 Mm−1, and O3: 38.9 ppbv) and, for coarse particles, during the post-monsoon (0.07 cm−3. At NCO-P, the synoptic-scale circulation regimes present three principal contributions: Westerly, South-Westerly and Regional, as shown by the analysis of in-situ meteorological parameters and 5-day LAGRANTO back-trajectories. The influence of the brown cloud (AOD>0.4) extending over Indo-Gangetic Plains up to the Himalayan foothills has been evaluated by analysing the in-situ concentrations of the ABC constituents. This analysis revealed that brown cloud hot spots mainly influence the South Himalayas during the pre-monsoon, in the presence of very high levels of atmospheric compounds (BC: 1974.1 ng m−3, PM1: 23.5 μg m−3, scattering coefficient: 57.7 Mm−1, coarse particles: 0.64 cm−3, O3: 69.2 ppbv, respectively). During this season 20% of the days were characterised by a strong brown cloud influence during the afternoon, leading to a 5-fold increased in the BC and PM1 values, in comparison with seasonal means. Our investigations provide clear evidence that, especially during the pre-monsoon, the southern side of the high Himalayan valleys represent a "direct channel" able to transport brown cloud pollutants up to 5000 m a.s.l., where the pristine atmospheric composition can be strongly influenced.
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P. Bonasoni, Paolo Laj, A. Marinoni, M. Sprenger, F. Angelini, et al.. Atmospheric Brown Clouds in the Himalayas: first two years of continuous observations at the Nepal Climate Observatory-Pyramid (5079 m). Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, European Geosciences Union, 2010, 10 (15), pp.7515-7531. ⟨10.5194/acp-10-7515-2010⟩. ⟨insu-00553639⟩

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