Tiny Particles in Wild Fire Smoke Might Change Climate Model Predictions

3-newinsightsoA team of scientists from Michigan Technological University have found missing variables from current climate models that can change the outcome significantly. These are soot and tar balls, particles that enter the atmosphere as a result of wild fires.

The summer season is always associated with high temperatures, heat waves, drought and consequently wild fires. Over the past few years, the number of fires has increased quite significantly, and many argue that these will increase as a result of climate change.

Now a team of scientists have taken this into consideration, and has tested the influence of smoke from burning biomass on the atmosphere and global climate.

Claudio Mazzoleni, an associate professor of physics, Swarup China, a PhD student and Michigan Tech physics alumnus Kyle Gorkowski now at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, decided to examine more closely soot, also typically found in diesel exhaust, and tar balls, particles that are mostly made of carbon and oxygen. The data they used was collected from smoke, released during the Las Conchas fire in 2011.

Using a field emission scanning electron microscope, the team was able to produce electron microscope images, which revealed two types of tar balls– dark and bright, and four types of soot particles. The dark tar balls are more oxidized, which suggests that they absorb and scatter light differently from the bright ones. In the case of the soot particles, the level of coating determined the optical properties.

The study published in Nature Communications does not provide an answer to whether these differences in particles could cause cooling or heating. The fact that the particles themselves are heating is not deterministic if they prevent light from penetrating the atmosphere. The authors are certain that the influence of smoke from wild fires, should be considered in future climate models.

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