Annals of Global Warming: Black soot and glaciers in Tibet

Another in a series on the history of global warming; this comes from the Earth Observatory at NASA (visit that site — the image is more stunning, larger):


Black Soot and the Survival of Tibetan Glaciers

Posted December 15, 2009
Black Soot and the Survival of Tibetan Glaciers

Color bar for Black Soot and the Survival of Tibetan Glaciers
download large image (677 KB, JPEG) acquired September 26, 2009
download large animation image (9 MB, M4V) acquired August 1, 2009 – November 9, 2009

On the Tibetan Plateau, temperatures are rising and glaciers are melting faster than climate scientists would expect based on global warming alone. A recent study of ice cores from five Tibetan glaciers by NASA and Chinese scientists confirmed the likely culprit: rapid increases in black soot concentrations since the 1990s, mostly from air pollution sources over Asia, especially the Indian subcontinent. Soot-darkened snow and glaciers absorb sunlight, which hastens melting, adding to the impact of global warming.

NASA climate scientists combine satellite and ground-based observations of soot and other particles in the air with weather and air chemistry models to study how the atmosphere moves pollution from one place to another. This image is from a computer simulation of the spread of black soot (“black carbon” to climate scientists) over the Tibetan Plateau from August through November 2009. It shows black carbon aerosol optical thickness on September 26, 2009. (Aerosol optical thickness is scale that describes how much pollution was in the air based on how much of the incoming sunlight the particles absorbed.) Places where the air was thick with soot are white, while lower concentrations are transparent purple.

The highest concentrations of black soot are in the right-hand side of the image, over the densely populated coastal plain of China. But high concentrations occur over India, as well, and the black soot spreads across the southern arc of the Tibetan Plateau, which is defined by the towering peaks of the Himalaya Mountains. (Note: Topography has been exaggerated to highlight features that influence air movement). The animation shows how the black carbon pollution from India often circulates at high concentrations for several days against the base of the Himalaya, periodically “sloshing” over the rim of the mountains and spilling northward over the plateau, before being carried away over the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea.

Writing about the implications of the study for the Goddard Institute for Space Studies Website, NASA climate scientist and study co-author James Hansen said, “[C]ontinued, ‘business-as-usual’ emissions of greenhouse gases and black soot will result in the loss of most Himalayan glaciers this century, with devastating effects on fresh water supplies in dry seasons. The black soot arises especially from diesel engines, coal use without effective scrubbers, and biomass burning, including cook stoves. Reduction of black soot via cleaner energies would have other benefits for human health and agricultural productivity. However, survival of the glaciers also requires halting global warming, which depends upon stabilizing and reducing greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide.”

NASA image by Gregory Shirah, Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio, based on model simulations from the Goddard Earth Observing System Model, Version 5 (GEOS-5). Caption by Rebecca Lindsey.

3 Responses to Annals of Global Warming: Black soot and glaciers in Tibet

  1. Nick Kelsier says:

    Just to annoy the denialists:

    Pope denounces failure to forge new climate treaty, says safeguarding God’s creation critical
    By NICOLE WINFIELD , Associated Press

    Last update: January 11, 2010 – 9:13 AM
    VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI denounced the failure of world leaders to agree to a new climate change treaty in Copenhagen last month, saying Monday that world peace depends on safeguarding God’s creation.

    He issued the admonition in a speech to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, an annual appointment during which the pontiff reflects on issues the Vatican wants to highlight to the diplomatic corps.

    Benedict has been dubbed the “green pope” for his increasingly vocal concern about protect the environment, an issue he has reflected on in encyclicals, during foreign trips and most recently in his annual peace message. Under Benedict’s watch, the Vatican has installed photovoltaic cells on its main auditorium to convert sunlight into electricity and has joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.

    For the pontiff, it’s a moral issue: Church teaching holds that man must respect creation because it’s destined for the benefit of humanity’s future.

    In his speech, the pontiff criticized the “economic and political resistance” to fighting environmental degradation that was exemplified in the negotiations to draft a new climate treaty at last month’s summit in Copenhagen.

    Officials from 193 countries met at the summit, which ended Dec. 19 having failed to produce a successor treaty to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. It produced instead a nonbinding accord that included few concrete steps to combat global warming.

    The Copenhagen summit did set up the first significant program of ensuring aid to help poorer nations cope with the effects of a changing climate. But while the accord urged deeper cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming, it did nothing to demand them.

    “I trust that in the course of this year … it will be possible to reach an agreement for effectively dealing with this question,” Benedict said.

    Benedict didn’t name countries responsible for bogging down negotiations, but he listed as the victims island nations at risk of rising seas and Africa, where the battle for natural resources, increased desertification and over-exploitation of land has resulted in wars.

    “To cultivate peace, one must protect creation!” Benedict told the ambassadors, many of whom wore their national dress or medal-draped formal attire for the audience in the frescoed Sala Regia of the Vatican’s apostolic palace.

    The pontiff said the same “self-centered and materialistic” way of thinking that sparked the worldwide financial meltdown was also endangering creation. To combat it will require a new way of thinking and a new lifestyle — and an acknowledgment that the question is a moral one, he said.

    “The protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, inasmuch as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God,” he said.

    To illustrate his point, the German-born pope recalled the experiences of eastern Europe under the “materialistic and atheistic regimes” of the former Soviet bloc.

    “Was it not easy to see the great harm which an economic system lacking any reference to the truth about man had done not only to the dignity and freedom of individuals and peoples, but to nature itself, by polluting soil, water and air?” he asked.

    “The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation.”

    Benedict’s theme was similar to the message he issued for the church’s World Day of Peace, on Jan. 1, where he argued that climate change and natural catastrophes threaten people’s rights to life, food, health — and ultimately peace.

    And it was reminiscent of the exhortation to world leaders that he issued ahead of Copenhagen summit, on Dec. 6, in which he called for them to “identify actions that respect creation and promote sustainable development,” noting that they would have to adopt “sober and responsible lifestyles” to do so.

    “In this sense, to guarantee full success at the conference, I invite all those people of good will to respect God’s laws of nature and rediscover the moral dimension of human life,” he said at the time.

    Yes, lady and gentleman denialists, congratulations you now have the single largest group of Christians opposing you.

    Have fun.


  2. Chas says:

    “However, survival of the glaciers also requires halting global warming…”

    Assuming such a task were possible…not likely…it also would be unlikely to stop the melting. Upper and mid level melting is affected by changes in weather patterns that have been independently predicted by climatologists who have studied the general variability of our climate. The only glacial activity to watch are submerged areas that would change due to changes in the water temperature.


  3. David Scott says:

    I could be paddling a rowboat down Market Street in San Francisco after the poles have melted, and there will still be conservative fanatics who deny that humans are responsible for Global Warming or that it is even real. I invite you to my web-pages devoted to raising awareness on this urgent issue:


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