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Warming influenced by the ratio of black carbon to sulphate and the black-carbon source


Black carbon is generated by fossil-fuel combustion and biomass burning. Black-carbon aerosols absorb solar radiation, and are probably a major source of global warming1,2. However, the extent of black-carbon-induced warming is dependent on the concentration of sulphate and organic aerosols—which reflect solar radiation and cool the surface—and the origin of the black carbon3,4. Here we examined the impact of black-carbon-to-sulphate ratios on net warming in China, using surface and aircraft measurements of aerosol plumes from Beijing, Shanghai and the Yellow Sea. The Beijing plumes had the highest ratio of black carbon to sulphate, and exerted a strong positive influence on the net warming. Compiling all the data, we show that solar-absorption efficiency was positively correlated with the ratio of black carbon to sulphate. Furthermore, we show that fossil-fuel-dominated black-carbon plumes were approximately 100% more efficient warming agents than biomass-burning-dominated plumes. We suggest that climate-change-mitigation policies should aim at reducing fossil-fuel black-carbon emissions, together with the atmospheric ratio of black carbon to sulphate.

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Figure 1: Frequency distribution of the BC-to-sulphate mass-concentration ratio for the Shanghai plumes, the Beijing plumes and the ‘all-others’ plumes measured at the Gosan climate observatory.
Figure 2: Vertical profiles determined from the UAV data.
Figure 3: Measured BC-to-sulphate mass-concentration ratio versus aerosol solar-absorption efficiency, that is, α, at 550 nm.


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The CAPMEX campaign was supported by NSF under grant ATM-0836093, and the analyses were funded by NSF grant ATM-0721142 and by NOAA grant NOAA/NA17RJ1231. We thank H. Nguyen for his support and the flight crew from Advanced Ceramic Research for the field support. We are grateful to Korean Air and their staff at Jeongseok Airport for their generous hospitality. S-C.Y. was supported by the Korean Meteorological Administration R&D programmes under grant CATER 2006-4104, and the BK21 program in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Seoul National University. We thank J. Fein, M. Rezin, S. C. Park, M. H. Kim, E. A. Stone and J. DeMinter for their support in conducting the campaign. We would like to acknowledge Cheju Aviation Management Office for their support of the field campaign.

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M.V.R. collected the data and carried out the bulk of the analysis with major input from V.R., V.R. designed CAPMEX and provided project oversight, Y.F. was responsible for emission-data analysis, Gosan surface data were synthesized by S-C.Y. and S-W.K., G.R.C. was responsible for the emission data during the Olympics and J.J.S. was responsible for aerosol filter-sampling analysis. V.R and M.V.R. wrote the manuscript, with input from Y.F., S-C.Y., S-W.K., G.R.C. and J.J.S.

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Correspondence to V. Ramanathan.

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Ramana, M., Ramanathan, V., Feng, Y. et al. Warming influenced by the ratio of black carbon to sulphate and the black-carbon source. Nature Geosci 3, 542–545 (2010).

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