Chemistry Nexus

by WebElements: the periodic table on the web

The observation that soot makes global warming “worse” is well covered today. The BBC covers this – largely because it appears that soot is more important for global warming than realised earlier. Dr James Hansen and Larissa Nazarenko, (Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA, and Columbia University Earth Institute) suggest that trying to reduce the amount of soot produced would be easier than cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Concentrations of soot are often high over China and India, where coal and organic fuels are used domestically, and over Europe and North America, where the main source is diesel oil.1

Abstract:1 plausible estimates for the effect of soot on snow and ice albedos (1.5% in the Arctic and 3% in Northern Hemisphere land areas) yield a climate forcing of +0.3 W/m2 in the Northern Hemisphere. The “efficacy” of this forcing is ∼2, i.e., for a given forcing it is twice as effective as CO2 in altering global surface air temperature. This indirect soot forcing may have contributed to global warming of the past century, including the trend toward early springs in the Northern Hemisphere, thinning Arctic sea ice, and melting land ice and permafrost. If, as we suggest, melting ice and sea level rise define the level of dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, then reducing soot emissions, thus restoring snow albedos to pristine high values, would have the double benefit of reducing global warming and raising the global temperature level at which dangerous anthropogenic interference occurs. However, soot contributions to climate change do not alter the conclusion that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been the main cause of recent global warming and will be the predominant climate forcing in the future.


1. Hansen, J., and L. Nazarenko. “Soot climate forcing via snow and ice albedos“, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2003, 101, 423-428,

December 9th, 2009

Posted In: Atmospheric chemistry, Chemistry, Environmental chemistry

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