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Spring agricultural fires have large impact on melting Arctic
Date:5/26/2009

DURHAM, N.H. - Scientists from around the world will convene at the University of New Hampshire June 2-5, 2009, to discuss key findings from the most ambitious effort ever undertaken to measure "short-lived" airborne pollutants in the Arctic and determine how they contribute in the near term to the dramatic changes underway in the vast, climate-sensitive region.

The two-year international field campaign known as POLARCAT was conducted most intensively during two three-week periods last spring and summer and focused on the transport of pollutants into the Arctic from lower latitudes.

One surprise discovery was that large-scale agricultural burning in Russia, Kazakhstan, China, the U.S., Canada, and the Ukraine is having a much greater impact than previously thought.

A particular threat is posed by springtime burning - to remove crop residues for new planting or clear brush for grazing - because the black carbon or soot produced by the fires can lead to accelerated melting of snow and ice.

Soot, which is produced through incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels, may account for as much as 30 percent of Arctic warming to date, according to recent estimates. Soot can warm the surrounding air and, when deposited on ice and snow, absorb solar energy and add to the melting process.

In addition to soot, other short-lived pollutants include ozone and methane. Although global warming is largely the result of excess accumulation of carbon dioxide, the Arctic is highly sensitive to short-lived pollutants. Forest fires, agricultural burning, primitive cookstoves, and diesel fuel are the primary sources of black carbon; oil and gas activities and landfills are major sources of methane.

During the UNH workshop, a report by the Clean Air Task Force detailing some of the campaign's findings on agricultural burning and transport to the Arctic will be officially released.

"Targeting these emissions offers a s
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Contact: David Sims
david.sims@unh.edu
603-862-5369
University of New Hampshire
Source:Eurekalert

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