Researchers find the source of black carbon in the Arctic

Brooks Hays
Black carbon accelerates warming and melting in the Arctic. Photo by Tomsk Polytechnic University
Black carbon accelerates warming and melting in the Arctic. Photo by Tomsk Polytechnic University

Feb. 15 (UPI) -- When black carbon coats the surface of snow and ice in the Arctic, it reduces the surface's reflectivity, causing the snow and ice to absorb more of the sun's energy, amplifying melt rates and accelerating global warming.

Now, scientists have an accurate picture of where most of the Arctic's black carbon comes from.


The soot that falls as black carbon is produced by wildfires, diesel engines, kilns and wood burning stoves. To better understand where the region's black carbon deposits originate from, scientists conducted a chemical analysis of soot samples from across the Arctic.

By measuring the isotopic ratios in the black carbon samples, researchers can determine during which season it was deposited and where it came from.

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"The significance of studying atmospheric pollution with black carbon is determined by its global climatic and environmental impact," Igor Semiletov, climate scientist at the Tomsk Polytechnic University, said in a news release.

In addition to darkening the snow and ice, and encouraging warming and melting, black carbon also interacts with clouds in the atmosphere. Soot particles influence cloud formation, as well as cloud reflectivity and precipitation patterns.

"In the present study, the seasonal contribution of various Arctic areas to black carbon emissions was revealed based on complex elemental and isotopic analysis of black carbon, known characteristics of main sources and the most contemporary transport models of atmospheric circulation," Semiletov said.

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The new research -- published this week in the journal Science Advance -- showed fossil fuel combustion is responsible for most of the black carbon despots in the winter. In the summer, most of the black carbon is caused by biomass burning, natural and human-caused.

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