First-time measurements in Greenland snowpack show a drop in atmospheric co since 1950s

September 17, 2013

A first-ever study of air trapped in the deep snowpack of Greenland shows that atmospheric levels of carbon monoxide (CO) in the 1950s were actually slightly higher than what we have today. This is a surprise because current computer models predict much higher CO concentrations over Greenland today than in 1950. Now it appears the opposite is in fact true.

In a paper recently published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, Vasilii Petrenko, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, concluded that CO levels rose slightly from 1950 until the 1970s, then declined strongly to present-day values. This finding contradicts computer models that had calculated a 40 percent overall increase in CO levels over the same period.

"The CO decline coincides with improvements in combustion technology, in particular the introduction of catalytic converters in automobiles," said Petrenko. "CO emissions were declining even as fossil fuel use was increasing."

Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of combustion that can be deadly in high concentrations, exists in the atmosphere at very low levels. While not a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, it plays an important role in atmospheric chemistry and an indirect role in global warming.

Petrenko and his team began their research project by extracting air from the snowpack at various depths, with samples taken from deeper in the snowpack corresponding to older time frames. After analyzing the samples, they created a CO history for the Arctic over the last 60 years, which shows that levels have been declining since the 1970s, despite a global increase in the number of vehicles being driven.

"It seems that no one thought to study carbon monoxide in the Greenland snowpack before our work," said Petrenko. "Also, the difficulty of taking the samples and making measurements may have discouraged some researchers."

Carbon monoxide readily reacts with hydroxyl molecules (OH), thereby reducing the levels of OH in the atmosphere. The problem is that OH helps to reduce the amount of important atmospheric greenhouse gases -- such as methane. This means that high concentrations of CO indirectly contribute to global warming.

Petrenko said it's possible that improvements in combustion technology may have had an even stronger impact than is immediately apparent from his research data. He points out that burning firewood -- a predominant cooking fuel in south Asia -- is a major source of carbon monoxide. Improvements in combustion technology may have masked an increase in CO from cooking -- brought on by a rise in that region's population.

"In order for computer models to get things right, it's important to have accurate historical records," said Petrenko. "Until now, we haven't had enough reliable data on carbon monoxide concentrations. This work helps to fill that gap."

Petrenko hopes to get the necessary funding to take readings from deeper in the Greenland ice in order to extend the record of CO levels to before the Industrial Revolution.
-end-


University of Rochester

Related Combustion Articles from Brightsurf:

Bio-based inhibition of gas hydrate formation
Copper stearate was used as the basis for this catalyst test and showed efficiency for in-situ oil combustion.

Ways to improve petroleum coke combustibility studied with presence of metal catalysts
The fixed fluidized bed technology is already widely used overseas, but is relatively new for the Russian oil industry.

Under pressure, nontoxic salt-based propellant performs well
In smaller spacecraft such as CubeSat satellites, a salt-based monopropellant is showing promise.

Eco-friendly Oxy-CFBC technology to implement stackless power plant
Coal-fired power plants in Korea have been considered as one of the main sources of air pollutants, CO2 and the other precursor materials to ultra fine dusts such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide.

New progress in turbulent combustion modeling: Filtered flamelet model
Recently, a new modeling idea for turbulent diffusion flame has been proposed by Lipo Wang's group from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Jian Zhang from the Institute of Mechanics, CAS.

Co-combustion of wood and oil-shale reduces carbon emissions
Utilization of fossil fuels, which represents an increasing environmental risk, can be made more environmentally friendly by adding wood -- as concluded based on the preliminary results of the year-long study carried out by thermal engineers of Tallinn University of Technology.

Various stearates tested for in-situ combustion process by Kazan Federal University
Thermal oil extraction gets more and more recognition in scientific circles.

Combustion behavior of aromatics may provide keys to enhancing heavy oil extraction
The problem of petroleum depletion becomes more and pertinent every day.

New look at old data leads to cleaner engines
New insights about how to understand and ultimately control the chemistry of ignition behavior and pollutant formation have been discovered in research led by Sandia National Laboratories.

Turbocharging the switch to efficient engines
Predicting capricious pre-ignition combustion events could enable automakers to build powerful yet more efficient engines.

Read More: Combustion News and Combustion 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.