The fact that glaciers in the Himalayan mountains are thinning is not disputed. However, few researchers have attempted to rigorously examine and quantify the causes. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist Surabi Menon set out to isolate the impacts of the most commonly blamed culpritgreenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxidefrom other particles in the air that may be causing the melting. Menon and her collaborators found that airborne black carbon aerosols, or soot, from India is a major contributor to the decline in snow and ice cover on the glaciers.
"Our simulations showed greenhouse gases alone are not nearly enough to be responsible for the snow melt," says Menon, a physicist and staff scientist in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division. "Most of the change in snow and ice coverabout 90 percentis from aerosols. Black carbon alone contributes at least 30 percent of this sum."
Menon and her collaborators used two sets of aerosol inventories by Indian researchers to run their simulations; their results were published online in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.
The actual contribution of black carbon, emitted largely as a result of burning fossil fuels and biomass, may be even higher than 30 percent because the inventories report less black carbon than what has been measured by observations at several stations in India. (However, these observations are too incomplete to be used in climate models.) "We may be underestimating the amount of black carbon by as much as a factor of four," she says.
The findings are significant because they point to a simple way to make a swift impact on the snow melt. "Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for 100 years, but black carbon doesn't stay in the atmosphere for more than a few weeks, so the effects of controlling black carbon are much faster," Menon says. "If you control black carbon now, you're going to see an immedi
|Contact: Julie Chao|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory