Fossil Fuels, Not Wildfires, Biggest Source of Arctic Black Carbon, Study Finds

Five years of testing at sites across the Arctic tracked seasonal fluctuations and sources of a climate pollutant that contributes to global warming and ice melt.

New remote data show fossil fuel combustion is the leading source of black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant and one cause of darkening of ice in the Arctic region. (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.

When soot from fossil fuel combustion and wildfires drifts onto the Arctic ice and snow, it helps feed a spiraling cycle of warming, melting ice and rising sea level.

New research carried out at remote locations across the Arctic shows that most of the soot—also known as black carbon—is coming from coal power plants, cars and trucks and factories.  The findings could help countries begin to control this short-lived climate pollutant.

“Some people think it’s biofuels and wildfires, but our main takeaway is that fossil fuels are the main source of black carbon in the Arctic,” said Patrik Winiger of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the lead author of a study published today in the journal Science Advances

His team found that about 70 percent of the black carbon in the Arctic currently comes from fossil fuel burning in Northern countries.  They tracked changes in black carbon levels in the atmosphere through the seasons over five years and used chemical analyses to determine the pollution’s origins.

During winters, they found that emissions from fossil fuel burning made up the majority of black carbon accumulations.

During the summer, when overall black carbon concentrations are lower, emissions from wildfires and agricultural burning were bigger sources. 

Read more at Fossil Fuels, Not Wildfires, Biggest Source of Arctic Black Carbon, Study Finds

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