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Now It’s Soot That’s Melting The Glaciers

From Live Science:

New research shows how winds push thick clouds of black carbon (shown in purple and white) and dust toward the base of the Himalayas where they accumulate, rise and drive a heat pump that affects the region’s climate.

Black Soot Might Be Main Culprit of Melting Himalayas

By Andrea Thompson, Senior Writer

14 December 2009

SAN FRANCISCO – Tiny particles of pollution known as "black carbon" – and not heat-trapping greenhouse gases – may be causing most of the rapid melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, a key water source for much of Asia.

The contribution of this form of man-made pollution, sometimes called soot, to the speedy melting occurring in this mountainous region – sometimes known as Earth’s "third pole" – was discussed here today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

The Himalayas are home to some 110 peaks that stretch along 1,550 miles (2,500 km) of Asia and harbor 10,000 glaciers. These massive rivers of ice hold the third largest amount of stored fresh water on the planet (after the North and South Poles).

All that frozen water is the main source of replenishment to lakes, streams and some of the continent’s mightiest rivers, on which millions of people depend for their water supplies.

But since the 1960s, the acreage covered by Himalayan glaciers has declined by more than 20 percent. Some glaciers are melting away so rapidly that scientists worry they could disappear by mid-century.

The rate of warming in the Himalayas has been about twice the global average over the past 30 years, scientists have found.

New research by several groups of scientists has found that the increase in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, might not be the main culprit. Instead, another more localized source of pollution emitted by industrial and other processes might be responsible for most of the melt.

"Tibet’s glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate," said James Hansen, a member of one of the study teams and the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. "Black soot is probably responsible for as much as half of the glacial melt, and greenhouse gases are responsible for the rest."

Black soot (or black carbon) is created when the combustion from burning fossil fuels is incomplete.

Many of the major cities near the Himalayas – Delhi, Karachi and Dhaka – are responsible for the production of this pollution through the use of diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and outdoor cooking stoves. The amount of soot emitted from the area’s cities has been on the rise in recent decades.

"This is a very populated and polluted area," said William Lau, member of another study team and head of atmospheric science at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The circulation of the atmosphere in the region causes much of the soot-laden air to "pile up" against the Himalayas, Lau explained at a press conference here today.

This soot mixes with other dust from nearby deserts, creating a massive brown cloud visible from space that absorbs incoming solar radiation. As this layer heats up in the Himalayan foothills, it rises and enhances the seasonal northward flow of humid monsoon winds, forcing moisture and hot air up the slopes of the majestic mountain range.

As these particles rise on the warm, overturning air masses, they produce more rain over northern India, which further warms the atmosphere and fuels this "heat pump" that draws even more warm air to the region.

This "heat pump" changes the timing and intensity of the monsoon, transferring heat and hastening the melting of glaciers in the region.

Soot deposited on the glaciers themselves could also increase the melt rate by decreasing the amount of sunlight the icy surfaces reflect and increasing the amount of heat absorbed.

Both studies that have modeled this air-mass movement, along with examinations of soot levels in cores of ice drilled from the glaciers, have shown that soot likely has a strong effect on the climate and warming in the region.

Scientists say more work is needed to pin down the relative contributions of black carbon and greenhouse gases.

"The science suggests that we’ve got to better monitor the flue on our ‘rooftop to the world,’" Lau said. "We need to add another topic to the climate dialogue."

How many different causes have we heard in just the last few days for the melting of the glaciers?

Perhaps the science isn’t so settled after all.

Maybe we need a little more time to study problem, if it even really exists, before we commit ourselves to trillions of dollars in added costs and massive changes to the very way we live.

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, December 15th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Now It’s Soot That’s Melting The Glaciers”

  1. Iffen you can’t dazzle ’em with data, baffle ’em with bvllsh1t.

    That’s settled. And I’m pretty sure one of Alinsky’s talking points…

  2. joeblough says:

    The climate changes. It’s called nature.

  3. proreason says:

    Well alrighty then. The science is settled. Black Soot, created by man, is destroying the planet.

    We will have to raise taxes.

    And live in tents.

    Except for the brave aristocrats and scientists who have agreed to rule us.

  4. Liberals Demise says:

    I remember listening to Rush many, many years ago and remember the topic that cows farting was causing the Ozone hole at the South Pole.

    I believe Al GoreVidal was VP at the time and his time was spent with wife Tipper, ripping into Rock & Rollers. It seems if you play records backwards slow or fast, you can get a satanic message from it.

    Pattern here?

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