Aerosols reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface, an effect known as ‘solar dimming’.
In the study, researchers found that solar dimming increased river flows as the reduced amount of sunlight affected the rate of evaporation from the Earth’s surface.
“We estimate that, in the most polluted central Europe river basin, this effect led to an increase in river flow of up to 25 percent when the aerosol levels were at their peak, around 1980,” said lead study author Nicola Gedney from the Met Office in Britain.
With water shortages likely to be one of the biggest impacts of climate change in the future, these findings are important in making projections for the future, Gedney added.
“This study involved using detection and attribution techniques, which were able to show a link between aerosols and changes in river flows,” explained Chris Huntingford, one of the paper co-authors based at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Britain.
“These studies normally involve looking at how different factors affect temperature, but here we have been able to attribute this man-made influence to an environmental impact,” Huntingford added.
The study appeared in the journal Nature Geoscience.