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Scientists warn of soot effect on climate

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James Randerson

4 lakh persons are estimated to die each year due to inhaling soot particles

London: Soot produced by burning coal, diesel, wood and dung causes significantly more damage to the environment than previously thought, according to research published on Monday. The so-called “black carbon” could cause up to 60 per cent of the current warming effect of carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. researchers.

Around 400,000 persons are estimated to die each year due to inhaling soot particles, particularly because of indoor cooking on wood and dung stoves in developing countries.

These deaths are mainly among women and children. Professor Greg Carmichael, of the University of Iowa, one of the authors of the study, published in Nature Geoscience, said: “Trying to develop strategies that really go after black carbon is really a very good short-term strategy and a win-win strategy for both climate and air pollution perspectives.”

Carmichael and Professor V Ramanathan, at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, put together data from satellites, aircraft and surface instruments on the warming effect from black carbon. They conclude that its effect in the atmosphere is around 0.9 watts per square metre, considerably higher than the estimate of between 0.2 and 0.4 watts in last year’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Most particulates in the atmosphere reduce the warming effect from greenhouse gases by bouncing radiation back into space — so-called global dimming. But black carbon has the opposite effect and Ramanathan and Carmichael argue that its contribution to global warming has been underestimated. They stressed “Black carbon reduction can only help delay and not prevent unprecedented climate changes due to CO2 emissions”. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008

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