16 January 2013

Uganda: Soot Contributes to Global Warming - Study

A new study released on Jan.15 suggests that soot--the fine black or brown powder that forms through incomplete combustion-- plays a major role in Climate Change than previously thought.

The study says soot, produced from burning diesel, firewood, charcoal, cow-dung and other plant-derived residues is second only to carbon dioxide emissions and has supplanted methane as the second most significant global warming agent that humans are pumping into the atmosphere according to an exhaustive review of more than a decade's worth of research on black-carbon soot emissions.

The study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres is relevant to Uganda where although the country contributes minute quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the majority of Ugandans still use firewood, charcoal, cow-dung and other crop residue for cooking and lighting.

The study notes that targeting soot could lead to quicker results in battling global warming.

Although carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel and from land use changes remains the number one cause of global warming, the report notes that the direct effect of soot on air temperatures, as well as its indirect effect on ice and snow melts and on cloud formation and persistence are closing in. It further warns that given the uncertainties in the estimates, black carbon soot may even outpace carbon dioxide's warming effect.

Soot remains in the atmosphere for around seven days which is a far shorter time than carbon dioxide which remains in the atmosphere for centuries. This means, the study suggests that efforts to reduce soot may apply an important brake to warming in the short term with quick results.

"There's a lot of promise in reducing black carbon" and other relatively short-lived warming agents, such as methane, said Tami Bond, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and one of the study's three lead authors.

"But there's also a lot of caution."

Bond added that although uncertainties surrounding some of its climate effects remain large, by properly moving to reduce black-carbon soot, the effort could have immediate climate and public-health benefits.

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