PerspectiveAtmospheric Science

Aerosols in Clearer Focus

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Science  17 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5998, pp. 1474-1475
DOI: 10.1126/science.1192930

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Atmospheric aerosols—microscopic liquid or solid particles suspended in Earth's atmosphere—can harm human health (1) as well as influence climate by absorbing and reflecting solar radiation and modifying cloud formation (2). Our ability to fully describe the role of aerosols in the climate system, however, has been limited by uncertainty surrounding aerosol distribution and characteristics. Two papers in this issue help reduce this uncertainty by providing data from two regions where coverage was poor. On page 1488, Clarke and Kapustin (3) detail aerosol profiles from both relatively pristine and polluted areas over the Pacific Ocean. On page 1513, Pöschl et al. (4) report on aerosols and cloud formation over the Amazon, where conditions may approximate those that existed in preindustrial times.