Black Carbon Pollution From Fossil Fuels Causes Twice the Warming As Burning Biomass

diesel fuel tank photo

photo: Peter Gibbons via flickr

More on the important role that black carbon soot plays in increasing global warming and what can be done about it: A new study published in Nature Geoscience found that the amount of solar radiation absorbed increased as the ratio of black carbon to sulphate rose. What's more, in terms of warming potential, black carbon plumes from fossil fuels were twice as powerful as those from burning biomass. It's that second part which really as implications for reducing warming from soot.Effects of Black Carbon Pollution Stop Quickly Once Source is Removed
The good news about black carbon and global warming is this: Unlike greenhouse gases which can remain in the atmosphere for decades or even centuries, black carbon particles come out of the atmosphere very quickly once the source of pollution is removed. Clean up diesel engines, emissions from power plants, and reduce the use of biomass cookstoves commonly used throughout much of the developing world and we could see big results, quickly.

Why the part about black carbon from fossil fuels being a greater cause of warming than burning biomass is important is that usually the causes of this soot are all lumped together--stopping burning biomass for cooking and heating, plus cleaning up diesel engines get equal attention.

One Third of Pollution Comes From Biomass, Two-Thirds From Fossil Fuels
What this study does, the authors building on their previous work, is clarify the respective influences of different sources of black carbon. If one-third of black carbon comes from cooking fires in China and India, with two-thirds coming from fossil fuels and diesel exhaust, then we know how to divide our efforts to reduce this pollution.

While swapping out biomass cookstoves with more efficient ones, or with electric stoves powered by clean energy sources, improves indoor air quality for their users (an important issue unto itself), cleaning up fossil fuel burning really ought to be getting more effort.

Ratio of Black Carbon to Sulfates Important For Climate Mitigation Policy
What's more, the authors point out, is that climate mitigation policies also need to focus on the ratio of black carbon to sulfate in emissions--not just overall levels of aerosol emissions.

Though it's well known that sulphate emissions, from industrial processes as well as from burning fossil fuels, can actually reduce warming, this is the first study to verify by observation the effect that varying ratios of black carbon to sulfates has on warming.

Read the journal article: Warming influence by the ratio of black carbon to sulphate and the black carbon source
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More on Global Warming Science:
90% of Himalayan Glacier Melting Caused by Aerosols & Black Carbon
Stopping Soot Emissions Only Way to Prevent Runaway Arctic Sea Ice Melting
Ignoring Soot Pollution Means We're 8 More Years Behind Schedule in Tacking Climate Change

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