Soot a Greater Factor in Global Warming than Previously Thought

Carbon dioxide is typically seen as the major contributor to global warming, but what else impacts climate change? According to a recent study conducted at Yale, black carbon, a major component of soot, is the second-biggest contributor to global warming.

Professor Trude Storelvmo of the Geology & Geophysics Department recently co-authored an important new study on the effects of soot on climate. Titled “Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: A scientific assessment,” the study re-evaluates the effect of black carbon on the climate. The results are striking: the trapping effect of black carbon is almost double the last estimated rate made in 2007.

Black carbon is a major component of soot. Courtesy of Yale University.

For the study, Storelvmo researched and modeled the interactions of black carbon particles with clouds. “Black carbon particles … absorb sunlight in the atmosphere, and so that’s the direct effect that they have on climate,” she said. “They also tend to warm the layers of the atmosphere where these particles reside, and that could in fact have effects on the cloudiness, so it could, for example, heat up a layer of the atmosphere so much that it evaporates all the clouds.”

Trude Storelvmo is an assistant professor in Yale’s Geology & Geophysics Department. Courtesy of Yale University.

The modeling took many factors into account, such as accumulation of black carbon in the atmosphere and how it interacts with chemicals and the earth’s surface. However, Storelvmo cautions us that the study of these issues is far from complete. These models offer only uncertain projections of future climate, since the trajectory that climate will take depends on not only what the models predict but also on changing human behavior over time.


Cover Image: After carbon dioxide, black carbon is the biggest contributor to global warming. Courtesy of the Guardian.