Welcome to Blog Action Day 2009! Starting early this morning in the Far East until late tonight in the Pacific Islands, more than 8,700 bloggers from 148 countries are stimulating a global conversation about many aspects of climate change. For me, the choice was easy – I write about science, so of course I’ll blog about the science of climate change. In the spirit of the “action” part of the day, I’m focusing on a unique project in India, what you might call an action-oriented scientific study of black carbon (BC).* [My regular readers know that I write about BC quite a lot – for you some of this will be a review, but please read on for some exciting new developments].
BC is a result of incomplete combustion of fossil and biomass fuels. Research suggests that BC is second only to CO2 in its contribution to climate change. BC absorbs the solar radiation reflected by the Earth’s surface and clouds. This absorption of sunlight contributes to the characteristic black or brown color of smoke and haze. Because BC only stays in the atmosphere for a week or so, the benefits of emissions BC reductions will be felt almost immediately. Reducing BC emissions by a factor of five – which is precisely what has been done in developed countries – could slow the effects of climate change for a decade or two. This could buy time to allow CO2 and other GHG reductions to take effect.
BC is not only a major climate agent; the indoor air pollution that BC is a part of is the 4th leading cause** of death in developing countries, resulting in 1.5 – 2 million premature deaths a year. Replacing smoky cookstoves and heating fires with more efficient ones, cleaner fuels, or renewable energy can improve the public health of millions, particularly woman and young children.
Project Surya is studying the impacts of BC and other SLPs on the region’s climate as well as the immediate climate and public health benefits of reducing their emissions. Phase One will target three regions in rural India: one in the Himalayas, another in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) and a third in South India. The IGP is one of the major source regions for the BC that is contributing to the melting of Himalayas glaciers. Project Surya will provide sustainable, effective, incentive-based plans to enable 5,000-10,000 households in each region to switch to less-polluting technologies. The project’s ultimate goal is to guide the 3 billion people who depend on solid biofuels to cleaner, renewable energy sources. “Surya” means sun in Sanskrit, referring to the solar energy that the project will promote.
What distinguishes Project Surya from other such efforts is that it will be accompanied by the most comprehensive and rigorous scientific evaluation to date on the impact of emissions reduction on global warming, air pollution and public health. Much of the data will be collected by the participants themselves, enabling them to see the effect of their actions. These data will be collected by instrument towers in each region then combined with advanced data from NASA’s A-Train satellite to measure the regional climate impacts.
Read more about Project Surya at: http://www-ramanathan.ucsd.edu/ProjectSurya.html.
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* Black carbon, tropospheric ozone (trop. O3) and methane (CH4) are considered short-lived pollutants because they stay in the atmosphere for very short amounts of time. The atmospheric lifetime of BC is about a week, trop. O3 a few weeks, and CH4 twelve years. CO2, N2O and halocarbons have atmospheric lifetimes of hundreds to thousands of years.
** 4th leading cause after unsafe sex, malnutrition and poor sanitation.