The Arctic Ice Melting Caused by Black Carbon from an Environmental Risk Analysis Perspective

A re:look climate review of a scientific work which has not been published beyond the original thesis

Source: Digitala Vetenskapliga Arkivet

Type: Master Thesis

Author: Henrik Olstrup

Institution: Linneaeus University, Sweden

Field of Research: Environmental Risk Analysis

Source file: (firewall settings might need to be adjusted)

Year: 2011

re:look climate text: Nadine Oppermann, Ade Adedokun, and Philipp Lengsfeld

re:look climate teaser:

This Environmental Risk Analysis master thesis project, albeit 10 years old, is a good summary on the underestimated effects of black carbon (BC), which is a not so well known source for climate effects, especially in the arctic, and is linked to other environmental impacts.

The work basically summarizes and presents knowledge of black carbon/soot aerosols and their environmental impact. The work thus is in itself a valuable starting point to work on this matter.

The essay as the author calls it himself uses a three-step analysis approach, consisting of highlighting risk assessment, risk communication and risk management. In addition to the effects on the environment, health risks were also included.

The core topic of the thesis deals with the potential environmental risk of black carbon aerosols in the Arctic. Through various direct effects, such as decrease in Albedo, and indirect effects such as solar forcing soot can contribute to the well-known and dramatic effect of Arctic sea ice melting. The proportion that black carbon contributes to the melting of the Arctic ice is assumed to be as high as 30% according to a key reference cited in the thesis (Ezzati M. et al. 2006).

In addition to the effects on the albedo, BC particles in the air increase the temperature and lead to around 2 million deaths per year due to harmful effects Kandlikar M. et al. (2009). In contrast to carbon dioxide, the influence of black carbon is often neglected when considering climate related questions, argues the author.

In the risk assessment part Olstrup highlights that Southeast Asia plays an important role in soot emissions for the Arctic, with burning biomass/crop to prepare the field being an essential portion.

Fig. 1: Black carbon emissions related to region and source in 2002 Original source: Baron R.E. et al. (2009).

The risk management part deals with options for reducing BC emissions in terms of suitability and profitability and shows available technologies. The thesis explains that soot reduction is particularly profitable in countries with high emissions, but that these Southeast Asian countries may need support from Western countries in implementing the measures. Here it is shown that risk communication works poorly or not at all, as there are already existing technologies in western countries, but these have not penetrated into the southeastern regions.

The work shows that communication was particularly neglected in the assessment of the risk. In past discussions about melting poles, CO2 emissions in particular were highlighted, while BC as a driver seems to have been underappreciated. And this despite the fact that due to the short duration of the black carbon in the atmosphere, a reduction of the emission can lead to the quick achievement of the objectives in the fight against the Arctic melt. Reducing black carbon emissions has numerous additional advantages. In addition to a slowdown in the melting of ice, there are improvements in human health in areas that are particularly high in emissions. Reducing BC emissions is very cost-effective, especially in these areas. To achieve these goals, the work emphasizes the imperative to improve global communication about environmental risks between researchers and policy makers.

re:look climate summary line: This thesis sheds strong light on a currently underappreciated anthropogenic environmental effect: Black carbon emissions.

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