Climate Science

Historical Soot

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Science  11 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5617, pp. 215
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5617.215b

Black carbon particles are a product of incomplete combustion; hence black carbon emission levels reflect how efficiently fuel is burned as well as how much fuel is consumed. Because these particles are the principal light-absorbing atmospheric aerosol, any analysis or prediction of climate variability must include an accurate atmospheric inventory of this species.

Novakov et al. present estimates of fossil-fuel black carbon emissions from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Soviet Union, India, and China for the period from 1875 to the present. These countries account for the majority of global consumption of coal and diesel fuel, which are the principal black carbon-producing fossil fuels. Emissions increased in the latter part of the 1800s, leveled off in the first half of the 1900s, and increased again in the past 50 years as China and India developed. Historical changes in fuel utilization have caused large variations in aerosol absorption, leading to substantial changes in aerosol single-scatter albedo in some regions and suggesting that anthropogenic black carbon production may have contributed to global temperature changes in the past century.—HJS

Geophys. Res. Lett.30, 1324 (2003).

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