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Quantifying the Impacts of Black Carbon Emissions on Arctic Temperature

Black carbon is a byproduct of incomplete fuel combustion that remains suspended in the air for up to a few weeks. Black carbon is a short-lived climate pollutant – it has a significant impact on climate, and is estimated to contribute more to global warming than any other pollutant except carbon dioxide. It is also a component of particulate matter and contributes to all the same adverse health impacts as fine particulate matter, such as premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

Black carbon has an especially strong impact on climate in the Arctic. Black carbon particles in the atmosphere absorb light, which can warm the Arctic if the particles are at low altitudes. In addition, black carbon that lands on snow and ice reduces the reflectivity of those surfaces, causing increased light absorption and melting. Mitigating the impacts of black carbon on Arctic climate has become a key area of focus for several international initiatives – such as the Arctic Council Task Force on Black Carbon and Methane and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme expert group on black carbon.

Since 2012, Abt Associates staff has been assisting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in analyzing the impacts of black carbon emissions on Arctic temperature change. This work has involved a range of activities, including:

  • Identifying global and regional black carbon emission scenarios and datasets;
  • Identifying the range of impacts that black carbon emissions have on Arctic climate;
  • Assessing models that can be used to evaluate the impacts of black carbon emissions; and
  • Developing analytical approaches to quantify the Arctic temperature impacts of global black carbon emissions.

Abt is working with EPA to analyze the impacts of black carbon emissions on Arctic temperature change, disaggregated by region and sector. This multiple-model analysis will help to compare the Arctic temperature impacts of black carbon emissions from specific global sector-region combinations, which can inform strategic decisions about investments in emissions mitigation. 

Read more about Abt’s assistance to the EPA:

North America