Tag Archives: Soot

Funeral smoke adds to South Asia’s woes

With the sub-continent battling a vicious Covid onslaught, the worst fires in years are adding to South Asia’s woes.

LONDON, 10 May, 2021 − A thick pall of smoke hangs over much of northern India. For weeks residents of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, have not seen the sun. Smoke blankets areas of Bangladesh and the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The pandemic has spread South Asia’s woes far and wide.

Forest fires sweep across the north Indian states of Uttarakhand – the country’s most forested state – and Himachal Pradesh. Further north in Nepal, fire is destroying thousands of hectares of forest. The fires, most of them out of control, are blamed in part on farmers burning stubble in their fields in order to plant crops.

But climate change is also a factor: over the past two years the level of rainfall across northern India has been considerably less than usual, while average temperatures have increased. Snowfall in the Himalayas has been well below average. As a result, say officials, much of the area has become tinder dry and fires have been spreading at lightning speed, leaving several people dead.

The conflagrations lead to the release of vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases, the air pollution causes widespread health problems, and biodiversity is lost.

“On average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India”

Smoke from the fires also causes fundamental changes high up in the Himalayas. Glaciers in the world’s highest mountain range are melting at considerable speed. This can lead to flooding in the short term and, in the long term, water shortages.

Higher temperatures are one reason for the melting, but soot from fires and other pollution is another important factor. When smoke particles fall on snow and ice they form a dark blanket which causes the absorption of more sunlight which, in turn, leads to further melting.

The Himalayas are particularly prone to such soot pollution. The Indo-Gangetic Plain to the south of the world’s highest and biggest mountain range is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

Winds carry the smoke from millions of household fires – many of them burning animal dung – high up into the mountains. Particulates from industrial pollution are also deposited on the snow and ice. Hindus burn the bodies of their dead on funeral pyres, and the smoke from these fires is also carried up into the Himalayas.

Role of rituals

Shamsh Pervez, a researcher at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in India, says that on average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India.

Organic carbon released during funerals and in the course of other religious rituals contains a number of light-absorbing compounds, many of them toxic, Pervez says.

In a study carried out some years ago by academics in India and at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, it was found that smoke from various religious rituals makes a significant contribution to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: it also causes further melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.

In the present Covid pandemic – hitting India and Nepal in particular – the number of such funerals is increasing. It’s estimated that wood from more than 50 million trees is used to fuel funeral pyres in South Asia each year. − Climate News Network

With the sub-continent battling a vicious Covid onslaught, the worst fires in years are adding to South Asia’s woes.

LONDON, 10 May, 2021 − A thick pall of smoke hangs over much of northern India. For weeks residents of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, have not seen the sun. Smoke blankets areas of Bangladesh and the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The pandemic has spread South Asia’s woes far and wide.

Forest fires sweep across the north Indian states of Uttarakhand – the country’s most forested state – and Himachal Pradesh. Further north in Nepal, fire is destroying thousands of hectares of forest. The fires, most of them out of control, are blamed in part on farmers burning stubble in their fields in order to plant crops.

But climate change is also a factor: over the past two years the level of rainfall across northern India has been considerably less than usual, while average temperatures have increased. Snowfall in the Himalayas has been well below average. As a result, say officials, much of the area has become tinder dry and fires have been spreading at lightning speed, leaving several people dead.

The conflagrations lead to the release of vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases, the air pollution causes widespread health problems, and biodiversity is lost.

“On average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India”

Smoke from the fires also causes fundamental changes high up in the Himalayas. Glaciers in the world’s highest mountain range are melting at considerable speed. This can lead to flooding in the short term and, in the long term, water shortages.

Higher temperatures are one reason for the melting, but soot from fires and other pollution is another important factor. When smoke particles fall on snow and ice they form a dark blanket which causes the absorption of more sunlight which, in turn, leads to further melting.

The Himalayas are particularly prone to such soot pollution. The Indo-Gangetic Plain to the south of the world’s highest and biggest mountain range is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

Winds carry the smoke from millions of household fires – many of them burning animal dung – high up into the mountains. Particulates from industrial pollution are also deposited on the snow and ice. Hindus burn the bodies of their dead on funeral pyres, and the smoke from these fires is also carried up into the Himalayas.

Role of rituals

Shamsh Pervez, a researcher at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in India, says that on average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India.

Organic carbon released during funerals and in the course of other religious rituals contains a number of light-absorbing compounds, many of them toxic, Pervez says.

In a study carried out some years ago by academics in India and at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, it was found that smoke from various religious rituals makes a significant contribution to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: it also causes further melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.

In the present Covid pandemic – hitting India and Nepal in particular – the number of such funerals is increasing. It’s estimated that wood from more than 50 million trees is used to fuel funeral pyres in South Asia each year. − Climate News Network

Greenland’s great melt is pinned on climate change

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The forensic search for the mysterious agent that almost melted Greenland goes on. The latest suspect to be rounded up for questioning is the jet stream, according to scientists in Sheffield, in the UK. LONDON, 18, June – First: the story so far. For a few days in July 2012, almost 97% of the surface of Greenland began suddenly to thaw. This was a melt on an unprecedented scale. Greenland carries a burden of three million cubic kilometres of ice and even in the summer, most of it stays frozen, partly because of the island’s high latitude and partly because ice reflects sunlight, and tends normally to serve as its own insulator. The event was so unusual, and so unexpected, and on such a scale that nobody seriously suggested that the dramatic conversion of snow to slush was direct evidence of climate change because of human-induced global warming. Soot, smoke and heat At first, climatologists were inclined to see the thaw as a consequence of the record-breaking heat waves and forest fires that afflicted North America last summer: snow could have been darkened by columns of soot and smoke from forest fires, just enough to start absorbing the sunlight, some reasoned. Then in April a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggested that freak cloud behaviour over Greenland at the time might have caused the melting. Clouds normally block sunlight and keep the terrain below them cool. But these clouds could have been thin enough to let solar radiation through, but thick enough to trap the consequential infra-red radiation from the ground, and raise the local temperature levels. Now Edward Hanna and colleagues at Sheffield report in the International Journal of Climatology that they have another explanation. Unusual atmospheric circulation and changes in the jet stream – the same changes that almost washed away summer in England – sent a blister of warm air sweeping over the ice sheet. Hanna and his team analysed all the weather data collected by the Danish Meteorological Institute and by US researchers, and then employed satellite readings and a computer simulation called SnowModel to reconstruct the strange turn of events. And climate change may after all be a suspect.   High melt years The Greenland Ice Sheet is a highly sensitive indicator of regional and global change, and, says Prof Hanna, been undergoing rapid warming, and losing ice, for at least the last five years and probably the last 20. “Our research found that a ‘heat dome’ of warm southerly winds over the ice sheet led to widespread surface melting.” This was not predicted by the climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and perhaps that indicated a deficiency in those models, he suggested. The event seemed to be linked to changes in a phenomenon known to oceanographers and meteorologists as the summer North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), another well-observed high pressure system called the Greenland Blocking Index, and the polar jet stream, all of which sent warm southerly winds sweeping over Greenland’s western coast. “The next five to 10 years will reveal whether or not 2012 was a rare event resulting from natural variability of the NAO or part of an emerging pattern of new extreme high melt years.” It was hard to predict future changes in the Greenland climate in the current state of knowledge, but important to keep on trying. There is an awful lot of ice on top of Greenland. Once it starts to melt, it is likely to be, say the Sheffield scientists,  “dominant contributor to global sea level change over the next 100 to 1,000 years.”- Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The forensic search for the mysterious agent that almost melted Greenland goes on. The latest suspect to be rounded up for questioning is the jet stream, according to scientists in Sheffield, in the UK. LONDON, 18, June – First: the story so far. For a few days in July 2012, almost 97% of the surface of Greenland began suddenly to thaw. This was a melt on an unprecedented scale. Greenland carries a burden of three million cubic kilometres of ice and even in the summer, most of it stays frozen, partly because of the island’s high latitude and partly because ice reflects sunlight, and tends normally to serve as its own insulator. The event was so unusual, and so unexpected, and on such a scale that nobody seriously suggested that the dramatic conversion of snow to slush was direct evidence of climate change because of human-induced global warming. Soot, smoke and heat At first, climatologists were inclined to see the thaw as a consequence of the record-breaking heat waves and forest fires that afflicted North America last summer: snow could have been darkened by columns of soot and smoke from forest fires, just enough to start absorbing the sunlight, some reasoned. Then in April a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggested that freak cloud behaviour over Greenland at the time might have caused the melting. Clouds normally block sunlight and keep the terrain below them cool. But these clouds could have been thin enough to let solar radiation through, but thick enough to trap the consequential infra-red radiation from the ground, and raise the local temperature levels. Now Edward Hanna and colleagues at Sheffield report in the International Journal of Climatology that they have another explanation. Unusual atmospheric circulation and changes in the jet stream – the same changes that almost washed away summer in England – sent a blister of warm air sweeping over the ice sheet. Hanna and his team analysed all the weather data collected by the Danish Meteorological Institute and by US researchers, and then employed satellite readings and a computer simulation called SnowModel to reconstruct the strange turn of events. And climate change may after all be a suspect.   High melt years The Greenland Ice Sheet is a highly sensitive indicator of regional and global change, and, says Prof Hanna, been undergoing rapid warming, and losing ice, for at least the last five years and probably the last 20. “Our research found that a ‘heat dome’ of warm southerly winds over the ice sheet led to widespread surface melting.” This was not predicted by the climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and perhaps that indicated a deficiency in those models, he suggested. The event seemed to be linked to changes in a phenomenon known to oceanographers and meteorologists as the summer North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), another well-observed high pressure system called the Greenland Blocking Index, and the polar jet stream, all of which sent warm southerly winds sweeping over Greenland’s western coast. “The next five to 10 years will reveal whether or not 2012 was a rare event resulting from natural variability of the NAO or part of an emerging pattern of new extreme high melt years.” It was hard to predict future changes in the Greenland climate in the current state of knowledge, but important to keep on trying. There is an awful lot of ice on top of Greenland. Once it starts to melt, it is likely to be, say the Sheffield scientists,  “dominant contributor to global sea level change over the next 100 to 1,000 years.”- Climate News Network

Black carbon flows from soil to seas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Charcoal and other forms of black carbon do not, as previously thought, stay where they are buried: they migrate to the oceans and recirculate the carbon they contain. LONDON, 25 April – Climate scientists may have to rethink some of their old assumptions about carbon. US and European researchers have just established that black carbon, soot and biochar – the burnt remains from countless forest fires –  doesn’t stay in the soil indefinitely. Around 27 million tons of the stuff gets dissolved in water and washed down the rivers into the oceans each year. Black carbon or biochar has been hailed as one possible way of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, by taking carbon out of circulation. But this study, according to a report in the journal Science, “closes a major gap in the global charcoal budget and provides critical information in the context of geo-engineering”. Forest, bush, scrub and peat fires produce somewhere between 40 and 250 million tons of black carbon every year. Had this burning been complete, this would have ended up as carbon dioxide, back in the atmosphere. So researchers have counted the biochar locked in the soil – where it enhances fertility – as carbon out of circulation for millions of years. But analysis of water from the world’s 10 largest rivers – the Amazon, the Yangtse, the Congo and so on – told a different story. “Each sample included a significant amount of black carbon”, said Anssi Vähätalo, now of the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. “On average, the amount of black carbon was 10% of the amount of dissolved organic carbon. “The results prove that the proportion of water-soluble carbon may be as much as 40% of black carbon created annually.” The sampled rivers carry one third of the water running to the oceans, from a catchment area that embraces 28% of the planet’s land area.

More CO2 released

  The research is yet another step in the long and tricky international effort to understand just how the world works: how life’s raw materials are consumed, exploited and recycled, and why greenhouse gas emissions are stubbornly on the increase. Fossil fuel burning puts back into the atmosphere the carbon dioxide – and the warmth – locked away in the Carboniferous period and buried for 300 million years. Log fires simply restore carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that was locked up a few decades earlier, in the growing tree: log fires in that sense are carbon neutral, or even carbon negative, since a lot of the carbon lingers and is buried as ash, soot or charcoal. Some environmentalists have argued that greater use of biochar could slow and perhaps ultimately reduce global warming by taking carbon out of circulation. The accounting may not be so simple. “Most scientists thought charcoal was resistant. They thought, once it is incorporated in the soils, it would stay there,” said Rudolf Jaffé from Florida University. “When charcoal forms it is typically deposited in the soil. From a chemical perspective, no one really thought it dissolves, but it does. “It doesn’t accumulate, like we had for a long time believed. Rather, it is transported into wetlands and rivers, eventually making its way into the oceans.” – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Charcoal and other forms of black carbon do not, as previously thought, stay where they are buried: they migrate to the oceans and recirculate the carbon they contain. LONDON, 25 April – Climate scientists may have to rethink some of their old assumptions about carbon. US and European researchers have just established that black carbon, soot and biochar – the burnt remains from countless forest fires –  doesn’t stay in the soil indefinitely. Around 27 million tons of the stuff gets dissolved in water and washed down the rivers into the oceans each year. Black carbon or biochar has been hailed as one possible way of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, by taking carbon out of circulation. But this study, according to a report in the journal Science, “closes a major gap in the global charcoal budget and provides critical information in the context of geo-engineering”. Forest, bush, scrub and peat fires produce somewhere between 40 and 250 million tons of black carbon every year. Had this burning been complete, this would have ended up as carbon dioxide, back in the atmosphere. So researchers have counted the biochar locked in the soil – where it enhances fertility – as carbon out of circulation for millions of years. But analysis of water from the world’s 10 largest rivers – the Amazon, the Yangtse, the Congo and so on – told a different story. “Each sample included a significant amount of black carbon”, said Anssi Vähätalo, now of the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. “On average, the amount of black carbon was 10% of the amount of dissolved organic carbon. “The results prove that the proportion of water-soluble carbon may be as much as 40% of black carbon created annually.” The sampled rivers carry one third of the water running to the oceans, from a catchment area that embraces 28% of the planet’s land area.

More CO2 released

  The research is yet another step in the long and tricky international effort to understand just how the world works: how life’s raw materials are consumed, exploited and recycled, and why greenhouse gas emissions are stubbornly on the increase. Fossil fuel burning puts back into the atmosphere the carbon dioxide – and the warmth – locked away in the Carboniferous period and buried for 300 million years. Log fires simply restore carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that was locked up a few decades earlier, in the growing tree: log fires in that sense are carbon neutral, or even carbon negative, since a lot of the carbon lingers and is buried as ash, soot or charcoal. Some environmentalists have argued that greater use of biochar could slow and perhaps ultimately reduce global warming by taking carbon out of circulation. The accounting may not be so simple. “Most scientists thought charcoal was resistant. They thought, once it is incorporated in the soils, it would stay there,” said Rudolf Jaffé from Florida University. “When charcoal forms it is typically deposited in the soil. From a chemical perspective, no one really thought it dissolves, but it does. “It doesn’t accumulate, like we had for a long time believed. Rather, it is transported into wetlands and rivers, eventually making its way into the oceans.” – Climate News Network