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Soot resolves paradox in climate science, scientists say

A team of researchers has pinned an enigmatic glacial retreat on soot lofted into the atmosphere during Europe's industrialization. 


Scientists have found that the industrial revolution could be to blame for a paradoxical Alpine glacial retreat that began around 1860.

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

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The Industrial Revolution could be to blame for an Alpine glacial retreat that is inconsistent with the Little Ice Age conditions during which it took place, according to a new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of researchers has now pinned the perplexing glacial retreat on soot buoyed into the atmosphere as Europe chugged into its Industrial Age. The find offers a possible solution to a paradox in climate science: how could the Alpine glacier have receded when the European environment, at the time cold and wet, was primed for glacial expansion?

That enigma begins around 1860 in the snow-caked Alps. At about that time, the glaciers that gloss the European mountain range began to roll back at an average of nearly 0.6 miles each year, reaching the smallest range since about 500 years prior.

“This was an abrupt change,” says Thomas Painter, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the lead scientist on the paper.

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