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Recently Discovered Source of Atmospheric Solar Radiation Absorption Is Quantified
Zender, C.S.  1999.  Global climatology of abundance and solar absorption of oxygen collision complexes.  Journal of Geophysical Research 104: 24,471-24,484.

What was done
The author builds on the recent discovery that the oxygen collision pairs O2 . O2 and O2 . N2 absorb a small but significant fraction of the globally incident solar radiation by characterizing the spectral, vertical, regional and seasonal atmospheric heating caused by this phenomenon.

What was learned
It was found that collisions of oxygen molecules with nitrogen molecules and other oxygen molecules lead to the absorption of about 1 Wm-2 of solar radiation, globally and annually averaged.

What it means
In the words of the author, this discovery "alters the long-standing view that H2O, O3, O2, CO2 and NO2 are the only significant gaseous solar absorbers in Earth's atmosphere" and suggests that the newly discovered and quantified phenomenon "should therefore be included in ? large-scale atmospheric models used to simulate climate and climate change."  This development vividly demonstrates that there may also be other unknown processes that should be included in the models that are used to simulate climate change, and that until we are certain there is little likelihood for further such surprises, we ought not rely too heavily on what the models of today are telling us about the climate of tomorrow.

Reviewed 15 February 2000