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Interactions with Aerosols Boost Warming Potential of Some Gases
For decades, climate NASA's scientists have worked to identify and measure key substances -- notably greenhouse gases and aerosol particles -- that affect Earth’s climate. And they’ve been aided by ever more sophisticated computer models that make estimating the relative impact of each type of pollutant more reliable.
Yet the complexity of nature -- and the models used to quantify it -- continues to serve up surprises. The most recent? Certain gases that cause warming are so closely linked with the production of aerosols that the emissions of one type of pollutant can indirectly affect the quantity of the other. And for two key gases that cause warming, these so-called “gas-aerosol interactions” can amplify their impact.
“We’ve known for years that methane and carbon monoxide have a warming effect,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York and lead author of a study published this week in Science. “But our new findings suggest these gases have a significantly more powerful warming impact than previously thought.”
Mixing a Chemical Soup
When vehicles, factories, landfills, and livestock emit methane and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, they are doing more than just increasing their atmospheric concentrations. The release of these gases also have indirect effects on a variety of other atmospheric constituents, including reducing the production of particles called aerosols that can influence both the climate and the air quality. These two gases, as well as others, are part of a complicated cascade of chemical reactions that features competition with aerosols for highly reactive molecules that cleanse the air of pollutants.
Aerosols can have either a warming or cooling effect, depending on their composition, but the two aerosol types that Shindell modeled -- sulfates and nitrates -- scatter incoming light and affect clouds in ways that cool Earth. They are also related to the formation of acid rain and can cause respiratory distress and other health problems for those who breathe them.
Human activity is a major source of sulfate aerosols, but smokestacks don’t emit sulfate particles directly. Rather, coal power production and other industrial processes release sulfur dioxide -- the same gas that billows from volcanoes -- that later reacts with atmospheric molecules called hydroxyl radicals to produce sulfates as a byproduct. Hydroxyl is so reactive scientists consider it an atmospheric "detergent" or "scrubber" because it cleanses the atmosphere of many types of pollution.
In the chemical soup of the lower atmosphere, however, sulfur dioxide isn’t the only substance interacting with hydroxyl. Similar reactions influence the creation of nitrate aerosols. And hydroxyls drive long chains of reactions involving other common gases, including ozone.
Methane and carbon monoxide use up hydroxyl that would otherwise produce sulfate, thereby reducing the concentration of sulfate aerosols. It's a seemingly minor change, but it makes a difference to the climate.
“More methane means less hydroxyl, less sulfate, and more warming,” Shindell explained.
His experiment showed that increases in global methane emissions have caused a 26 p% decrease in hydroxyl and an 11 %decrease in the number concentration of sulfate particles. Reducing sulfate unmasks methane’s warming by 20 to 40 % over current estimates, but also helps reduce negative health effects from sulfate aerosols.
In comparison, the model calculated that global carbon monoxide emissions have caused a 13 percent reduction in hydroxyl and 9 percent reduction in sulfate aerosols.
Nitrogen oxides -- pollutants produced largely by power plants, trucks, and cars -- led to overall cooling when their effects on aerosol particles are included, said Nadine Unger, another coauthor on the paper and a climate scientist at GISS.
To determine the climate impact of particular greenhouse gases, NASA's scientists have relied on surface stations and satellites to measure the concentration of each gas in the air.
The new findings underscore the importance of devising multi-pronged strategies to address climate change rather than focusing exclusively on carbon dioxide. “Our calculations suggest that all the non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases together have a net impact that rivals the warming caused by carbon dioxide."
In particular, the study reinforces the idea that proposals to reduce methane may be an easier place for policy makers to start climate change agreements. “Since we already know how to capture methane from animals, landfills, and sewage treatment plants at fairly low cost, targeting methane makes sense,” said Michael MacCracken, chief scientist for the Climate Institute in Washington, D.C.
This research also provides regulators insight into how certain pollution mitigation strategies might simultaneously affect climate and air quality.
Reductions of carbon monoxide would have positive effects for both climate and the public health, while reducing nitrogen oxide could have a positive impact on health but a negative impact on the climate.
The photo above shows longtime supporter of
Bear Springs Blossom Nature Conservation =former NASA pilot Jack "Triple" Nickel. He has had some of the most extraordinary naked-eye views of space that a person can have, short of actually being in space. Try a night watch of the heavens while flying at Mach 2 in an F-15 at 45,000 feet, for example, or seeing the full moon from the giant windscreen of the high-tech Super Guppy cargo plane. A quarter-century of relishing such views, first as an Air Force pilot, then as a military and civilian pilot for NASA, helped Nickel become the space agency's unofficial resident astronomy expert, the man who tells the astronauts what they're going to see up there.
A robot with the name Robonaut accompanies astronauts at the international Space station.
CAPE CANAVERAL — Astronauts and Robonaut have united in space with a healthy handshake. The commander of the International Space Station, Daniel Burbank, shook hands Wednesday with Robonaut. It's the first handshake ever between a human and a humanoid in space.
NASA's Robonaut was launched aboard space shuttle Discovery last February. Crews have been testing it to see how it one day might help astronauts perform space station chores.
"The first human-humanoid handshake in space," Burbank proclaimed. "For the record, it was a firm handshake," Burbank radioed. "Quite an impressive robot."
NASA released a study:
Global warming is increasing the frequency
of extremely high clouds in the Earth's tropics
that cause severe storms and rainfall.
The space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
said a study by its scientists "found a strong
correlation between the frequency of these clouds
and seasonal variations in the average sea surface temperature of the tropical oceans."
"For every degree Centigrade (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in average ocean surface temperature, the team observed a 45-percent increase in the frequency of the very high clouds."|
"At the present rate of global warming of 0.13 degrees Celsius (0.23 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade, the team inferred the frequency of these storms can be expected to increase by 6 % per decade."
JPL Senior Research Scientist Hartmut Aumann headed the study on 5 years of data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA's Aqua spacecraft, an instrument that observes climate variations.
NASA John F Kennedy space center in Florida gave Peter Bonenberger
the opportunity to feel as an astronaut..
Hubble space telescope seen from space shuttle 2009
Although Mars is quite different from Earth in many ways—smaller, colder, drier, and hostile to life—in some respects the two worlds are quite similar. Volcanoes shaped the surface of both planets, and a distinctive feature of volcanism was recently found on the surface of Mars. Columnar jointing is a pattern of cracking in rocks that forms slender columns, typically six-sided. Jointing occurs when lava or magma comes into contact with a cool, flat surface. After the lava solidifies, it cools and shrinks, causing cracks to form perpendicular to the cool surface. In lava flows, cooling progresses from the top down (where the flow is in contact with air or water), forming regular columns.
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