Controlling soot could reduce warming in the Arctic: scientist

“Reducing emissions from diesel generators could have an immediate effect on warming”


A new study of dust-like particles of soot in the air provides fresh evidence that reducing soot emissions from diesel engines and other sources could cool down the Arctic faster and more economically than any other quick fix, a scientist said Aug. 31 at a conference in Denver.

In his presentation to the American Chemical Society, Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University said his study shows indicate that controlling soot could reduce warming in the Arctic by about 2 C within 15 years.

That would virtually erase all of the warming that has occurred in the Arctic during the last 100 years, he said in a news release on the presentation.

“No other measure could have such an immediate effect,” said Jacobson. “Soot emissions are second only to carbon dioxide in promoting global warming, but its effects have been underestimated in previous climate models. Soot emissions account for about 17 per cent of global warming, more than greenhouse gases like methane. Soot’s contribution, however, could be reduced by 90 per cent in five to 10 years with aggressive national and international policies.”

Soot, sometimes also called “black carbon” by scientists, consists of particles, which are released in smoke mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, found in the exhaust of diesel cars, buses, trucks, ships, aircraft, and construction equipment.

Soot particles become suspended in the atmosphere and absorb sunlight, just like a black t-shirt on a sunny day.

The particles then radiate that heat back into the air around it.

Soot also can absorb light reflected from Earth’s surface, which helps make it such a potent warming agent.

The good news is that decreasing soot could have a rapid effect, Jacobson said.

Unlike carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for years, soot disappears within a few weeks, so that there is no long-term warming effect.

And the technology for controlling soot, is already available at modest cost, he said.

Diesel particulate filters, for instance, can remove soot from car and truck exhaust.

“Reducing emissions from diesel generators could have an immediate effect on warming,” Jacobson said.

A report released last June by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization suggested measures such as mandatory filters on diesel vehicles could reduce warming in the Arctic by around 0.7 C in 2040, preventing about two-thirds of the estimated warming from taking place.

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