Tiny particles heat up the atmosphere faster than scientist once believed. The good news is this dust can be cleaned up fairly quickly.
Scientists know that dust affects climate. Tiny particles create veils that reflect sunlight and cool the atmosphere. Dark particles absorb sunshine and warm things up. But as scientists look deeper into the dust-climate connection, they find that they have underestimated its importance.
Research published April 3 in Nature reveals the tight linkage between atmospheric dust flows and Antarctic temperatures during ice ages over the past 800,000 years. A research review published March 23 in Nature Geoscience online shows that black carbon particles in the atmosphere have a more powerful global-warming effect than any of the greenhouse gases except carbon dioxide. And these particles are 60 percent as effective as CO2 itself. That's far more powerful than the estimate in last year's report of the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The good news is that black carbon particles such as diesel soot or wood-stove smoke only stay airborne for weeks. (It takes a century to get rid of today's CO2 emissions.) This fact offers an opportunity for instant payback, say study authors V. Ramanathan at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and Gregory Carmichael at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. In an announcement from Scripps, the authors note that commercially available technologies exist to cut back soot emissions substantially. Using them would rapidly reduce black-carbon warming.