Close Window
Soot and Other Pollutants Also Melting Arctic May 1, 2009
Soot covering parts of Alaska's McCall glacier
Black soot from wildfires far to the south blanket Alaska's McCall glacier. The pollution illustrates how black carbon from much warmer latitudes now covers many parts of the Arctic environment.
A new study by a team of scientists from four countries has found evidence that previously unconsidered kinds of pollution are causing a large portion of Arctic warming.

A report by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) cautions that factors like soot, ozone and methane may now be contributing to the warming of the Arctic and other parts of the world as much as carbon dioxide.

The amount of black carbon in the atmosphere, due to agricultural burning, forest fires and inefficient diesel engines, is creating a haze that absorbs sunlight, warms and falls on snow.

The darkening of the frozen surface then causes more sunlight to be absorbed, reducing the snow’s ability to reflect sunlight back into space.

"The principal (climate change) problem is carbon dioxide, but a new understanding is emerging of soot," said Nobel peace prize-winner and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in commenting on the report.

"Black carbon is settling in the Himalayas. The air pollution levels in the upper Himalayas are now similar to those in Los Angeles," Gore added.

Soot was not mentioned as a factor in global warming by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2007. But another report just issued points to it being responsible for half of the total temperature increases in the Arctic between 1890 and 2007.

Gore and others have said the world must burn less diesel and wood in order to reduce further warming of the Arctic.

The AMAP report also says that climate change is now affecting every life form in the Arctic. Among the report’s main findings is evidence the permafrost is warming fast and its margins thawing.

Photo: Matt Nolan - University of Alaska Fairbanks