Or more specifically it’s the soot, from our tailpipes, our industries, most of our electricity generation—and also from forest fires, volcanoes, and the wind. Black carbon soot is causing most of the loss of polar ice according to this recent piece from Scientific American. Yes, that Scientific American. The same Scientific American that seems to put global warming on it’s cover every other issue, usually including a Soviet-esque five year plan proposed by the editors. Check it out:
Belching from smokestacks, tailpipes and even forest fires, soot—or black carbon—can quickly sully any snow on which it happens to land. In the atmosphere, such aerosols can significantly cool the planet by scattering incoming radiation or helping form clouds that deflect incoming light. But on snow—even at concentrations below five parts per billion—such dark carbon triggers melting, and may be responsible for as much as 94 percent of Arctic warming.
“Impurities cause the snow to darken and absorb more sunlight,” says Charlie Zender, a climate physicist at the University of California, Irvine. “A surprisingly large temperature response is caused by a surprisingly small amount of impurities in snow in polar regions.”
What’s more, Charles Zender, the climate physicist at UC Irvine quoted in the piece, believes that this is warming we can actually do something about, and with policies far less drastically disruptive than those aimed at carbon dioxide production:
He argues that simple steps, such as fully burning fossil fuels in more efficient engines and using cleaner-burning cooking stoves, could help preserve the dwindling Arctic snow cover and ice (see video here). Even changing the timing of such soot emissions could play a role. “If you have to burn dirty fuel, you can do it in the fall or winter” when it will be buried under subsequent snowfall, Zender says. “If you can time your emissions so they have the least impact then you will not trigger these very sensitive regions to start warming by this ice albedo feedback process.”
Al Gore, call your office.
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