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A suspension of airborne solid or liquid particles, with a typical size between a few nanometres and 10 μm that reside in the atmosphere for at least several hours. The term aerosol, which includes both the particles and the suspending gas, is often used in this report in its plural form to mean aerosol particles. Aerosols may be of either natural or anthropogenic origin. Aerosols may influence climate in several ways: through both interactions that scatter and/or absorb radiation and through interactions with cloud microphysics and other cloud properties, or upon deposition on snow- or ice-covered surfaces thereby altering their albedo and contributing to climate feedback.

Atmospheric aerosols, whether natural or anthropogenic, originate from two different pathways: emissions of primary particulate matter (PM), and formation of secondary PM from gaseous precursors. The bulk of aerosols are of natural origin. Some scientists use group labels that refer to the chemical composition, namely: sea salt, organic carbon, black carbon (BC), mineral species (mainly desert dust), sulphate, nitrate, and ammonium. These labels are, however, imperfect as aerosols combine particles to create complex mixtures.

See also: Short-lived climate forcers (SLCF) and Black carbon (BC).