What Role do Black Carbon Aerosols (also known as soot) Play in Global Climate Change?

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Black carbon aerosols or soot are tiny, carbon-based particles that are emitted to that atmosphere as a by-product of incomplete/inefficient fossil fuel combustion (see glossary). Although not gases per se, these aerosols have similar warming effects on the global climate as traditional greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, etc. Black carbon contributes directly to warming of the earth’s atmosphere due to the ability of the dark-colored particles to absorb incoming solar radiation, which is then reemitted to the atmosphere. Interestingly, this also contributes to cooling at the earth’s surface because the absorption of solar radiation in the atmosphere contributes to a shading effect on the surface. However, when the black particles settle on snow or ice, they accelerate melting. Consequently, black carbon is especially effective at accelerating warming in snowy places, like the Arctic and snow-capped mountains. This raises concerns about the loss of snowpacks and glaciers that supply many people with water, such as in South and East Asia where the Himalayan glaciers supply major rivers with water.

Black carbon originates mostly from diesel engines in trucks and ships, burning

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coal in stoves, burning wood and dung for fuel, and forest fires. Many of these activities occur predominantly in developing countries. One of the major concerns about black carbon is that it causes health problems in local population. Reducing black carbon emissions would therefore improve public health and limit climate change.

Source: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Website: http://www.c2es.org/science-impacts/basics/faqs/climate-science

This article is part of our educational series on Climate Change. See related articles below.