Fossil fuel combustion is the main contributor to black carbon around Arctic

February 20, 2019

Fossil fuel combustion is the main contributor to black carbon collected at five sites around the Arctic, which has implications for global warming, according to a study by an international group of scientists that included a United States team from Baylor University.

The five-year study to uncover sources of black carbon was done at five remote sites around the Arctic and is published in the premier journal Science Advances, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Baylor team used radiocarbon to determine fossil and biomass burning contributions to black carbon in Barrow, Alaska, while their collaborators used the same technique for sites in Russia, Canada, Sweden and Norway.

Baylor research was led by Rebecca Sheesley, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental science in the College of Arts & Sciences, and Tate Barrett, Ph.D., former student of Sheesley and now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of North Texas. Their interest in the research resulted from a desire to understand why the Arctic is changing and what pollutants should be controlled to mitigate that change.

"The Arctic is warming at a much higher rate than the rest of the globe," Sheesley said. "This climate change is being driven by air pollutants such as greenhouse gases and particles in the atmosphere. One of the most important components of this atmospheric particulate matter is black carbon, or soot. Black carbon directly absorbs incoming sunlight and heats the atmosphere. In snowy places, it also can deposit on the surface, where it heats the surface and increases the rate of melting."

Findings showed that fossil fuel combustion (coal, gasoline or diesel) is responsible for most of the black carbon in the Arctic (annually around 60 percent), but that biomass burning (including wildfires and residential woodsmoke) becomes more important in the summer.

The site at Barrow, Alaska, which was the focus of the Baylor team, differed from other sites in that it had higher fossil fuel contribution to black carbon and was more impacted by North American sources of black carbon than the rest of the Arctic. Since 2012, Sheesley has been expanding this work to investigate how combustion and non-combustion sources impact different types of atmospheric particulate matter across the Alaskan Arctic.
-end-
*This Baylor University research received support from the U.S. Department of Energy (Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Field Campaign no. 2010-05876) and Baylor's C. Gus Glasscock Jr. Endowed Fund for Excellence in Environmental Sciences.

ABOUT THE RESEARCHERS

Dr. Sheesley is interested in understanding local to global impacts of atmospheric particulate matter. Her work on air quality spans several continents, with studies in Texas, the Upper Midwest, Southern California, Scandinavia, South Asia and the North American Arctic. Carbonaceous aerosols in the atmosphere are a continually changing complex mixture that interacts with the biosphere, impacts climate change and can have negative effects on human health. She has focused her efforts on refining methods for the analysis of the chemical and isotopic composition of particulate matter and understanding sources and transport of particulate matter in urban and remote environments.

Sheesley is also a faculty fellow with Baylor's Institute of Ecological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (TIE3s), an interdisciplinary and Ph.D.-granting institute that brings together researchers from biological, chemical, atmospheric and geological sciences, with statisticians, anthropologists and engineers to address the most challenging problems facing ecosystems and the environment.

Barrett is a TIE3s Ph.D. graduate of Baylor, where his research focused on trends, optical properties and source contributions to elemental and organic carbon influencing the North American Arctic.

Baylor University

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.