The burning of fossil fuels spews pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Among the most important are carbon dioxide, methane, and … black carbon?

Cooking on wood stove

Black carbon, a major component of soot, refers to tiny particles produced by incomplete combustion. In developing countries, wood cook stoves are one of the largest sources. But in the U.S., transportation is responsible for over fifty percent of all black carbon emissions. Wildfires are also a significant source. Chris Cappa of the University of California, Davis explains why this is important.

Cappa: “One of the big reasons that we’re concerned about black carbon is that it is black and it absorbs sunlight and that leads to warming of the atmosphere.”

Winds carry black carbon through the atmosphere, warming the air. When it then lands on snow or ice, it accelerates melting, further increasing its warming effect.

Cappa: “Our current best estimates suggest that the impact of black carbon is fairly comparable to that of methane in terms of its warming influence.”

Unlike carbon dioxide, which can stay in the atmosphere for a thousand years or more, black carbon falls out in just a few days or weeks. So reducing black carbon now can have immediate benefits for the world’s climate.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Black carbon (basic information)
Black carbon and atmospheric feedbacks
Climate’s Dark Forcings
Black carbon – element of uncertainty in climate prediction

Topics: Climate Science