Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Black Carbon

Black carbon. As opposed to what, diamonds? Anyway, I'm intrigued by this story that climate researchers have only recently begun to address the effects of "black carbon", i.e. soot, which darkens and warms the ground where it settles, particularly when it settles on otherwise reflective snow and ice. The study quoted suggests black carbon could be responsible for fully half of recorded Arctic warming in the last century. I have no doubt that this effect could be significant; I've seen it firsthand in the Cascades, the windward slopes of which are visibly besmirched with soot blown clear across the Pacific from China. It also seems like this could also help explain the discrepancy of glaciers and ice receding even in areas without measurable warming.

It does make one wonder exactly how the climate gurus are going to incorporate a vast and heretofore overlooked climate mechanism into their vaunted models. See, before they settle out of the atmosphere, particulate aerosols including soot also have a shielding effect that cools the Earth, though only temporarily, (as in the extreme case of the "year without a summer" that followed the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora). So this is me suspecting that precisely modeling the effect of airborne soot that shades the earth and seeds reflective clouds versus glacier-darkening soot that raises ground temperatures is probably a lot more difficult than they're going to make it seem.

That aside, it's a no-brainer that less soot would be a good thing. It's unhealthy and unsightly. I guess that's why nations tend to take care of their heavy soot problems as they get rich enough to afford to, with or without particularly environmentalist motives. Yet another argument that pressuring third-world countries into adopting misguided "green" policies would not only be profoundly immoral, it would also likely fail to achieve the intended "green" objectives.

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