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BLACK CARBON LEVELS SPIKE AT HIMALAYAN GLACIERS

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology, Prelims

Why in news?

Black carbon concentrations near the Gangotri glacier rose 400 times in summer due to forest fires and stubble burning from agricultural waste, and triggered glacial melt, says a study by scientists at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG).

Details

  • The team of scientists from WIHG- measured variations of black carbon concentration at Chirbasa, near the Gangotri glacier in the Indian Himalaya, and located at an altitude of 3,600 metres, during the year 2016.
  • The monthly mean concentration of EBC (equivalent black carbon) was found to be minimum in August 2020 and maximum in the month of May 2020.
  • The observed seasonal mean concentrations of EBC indicated a pristine glacial source and an absence of EBC sources in the locality

What is Black Carbon?

  • Black carbon is a potent climate-warming component of particulate matter formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, wood and other fuels.
  • Complete combustion would turn all carbon in the fuel into carbon dioxide (CO2), but combustion is never complete and CO2, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and organic carbon and black carbon particles are all formed in the process.
  • The complex mixture of particulate matter resulting from incomplete combustion is often referred to as soot.
Black Carbon (BC) and Co-pollutants from Incomplete Combustion EMISSIONS 
Main BC-rich sources 
b re ion and sector 
LIFETIME IN 
ATMOSPHERE 
Days 
AMPACTS 
Suspended in the atmosphere, 
BC particles contribute to global 
warming by absorbing energy and 
converting it to heat 
BC is a dangerous local air pollutant which 
can also be transported across the globe 
*Cia 
Africa 
Clean 
clouds 
reflect 
sunlight 
BC harms 
human 
health 
BC scavenged 
by clouds 
Dims ligh 
Sooty clouds 
absorb light Changes 
in cloud and 
rain patterns 
Sooty 
mountains 
absorb Increases 
light melting 
Latin Ame rica 
and 
PRIMARY BLACK CARBON-RICH SOURCES 
Clean 
snow 
and ice 
reflect 
sunlight 
BC 
deposits 
on snow 
and ice 
BC is always emitted with co-pollutant particles, some ot which have a cooling effect on climate. 
The ratio of BC to co-pollutants varies by source and determines if a measure has a net warming 
or net cooling effect. 
Resident. 
biofuel 
cooking 
heating 
Resident. 
coal 
cr_K3king 
anci 
heating 
On-road 
engnes 
Off-road 
engnes 
Industrial 
coal and 
brick kilns 
Open 
burning 
agricultural 
BC impacts 
ecosystems

Adverse Effects of Black Carbon

  • Black carbon is a short-lived climate pollutant with a lifetime of only days to weeks after release in the atmosphere.
  • During this short period of time, black carbon can have significant direct and indirect impacts on the climate, glacial regions, agriculture and human health.
  • Several studies have demonstrated that measures to prevent black carbon emissions can reduce near-term warming of the climate, increase crop yields and prevent premature deaths.
  • Black carbon absorbs solar energy and warms the atmosphere.
  • When it falls to earth with precipitation, it darkens the surface of snow and ice, reducing their albedo (the reflecting power of a surface), warming the snow, and hastening melting.

India and Black Carbon Emission

  • India is the second largest emitter of black carbon in the world, with emissions expected to increase dramatically in the coming decades.
  • Indo Gangetic plains are found to be the largest contributor.
India and Black Carbon Emission and Outflow in India Indo Gangetic plain (IGP)

Extra Coverage:  

Brown Carbon:

  • Brown carbon is a carbonaceous aerosol which absorbs solar radiation over a broad range of wavelengths which is beginning to be seen as an important contributor to global warming.
  • Brown Carbon absorbs both inorganic and organic pollutants, leading to serious effects on human health. Hence, Brown carbon (light-absorbing organic carbon) has attracted interest as a possible cause of climate change.
  • Brown Carbon is a class of organic carbon, known for its light brownish colour, absorbs strongly in the ultraviolet wavelengths and less significantly going into the visible.
  • Types of brown carbon include tar materials from smouldering fires or coal combustion, breakdown products from biomass burning, a mixture of organic compounds emitted from soil, and volatile organic compounds given off by vegetation.
Brown Carbon Black Carbon
Brown Carbon is brown in colour and its absorption is limited to UV and lower visible wavelengths. Aerosol absorption depends on the mass, mixing state, chemical composition and the refractive index of the species present in the atmosphere. The ratio of Black Carbon to organic mass determines the colour of the particles which is in turn influenced by the burning conditions. Black carbon is dark in color and shows strong light absorbing capacity throughout the spectra.

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