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Black Carbon

3 minutes

(Describer) Under a round logo of a wave, title: Ocean Today.

(Describer) In an animation, wisps of smoke turn into a title: Black Carbon.

[dramatic music plays]

(male narrator) Black carbon is the fancy name for soot. Like carbon dioxide, it's causing changes in the Arctic climate. It's caused by the burning of fossil fuels, like coal and diesel, and from forest fires and cookstoves. Most reaching the Arctic comes from North America and Eurasia. Studies suggest that black carbon is contributing to the acceleration of sea ice melting in the Arctic. Loss of this ice would lead to more rapid warming and possibly irreversible climate change.

(Describer) Smog drifts around a city skyline.

Black carbon is dark in color and warms the earth in two ways. When it's in the air, the particles absorb sunlight and generate heat in the atmosphere. This can affect cloud formation and rain patterns. When it covers snow and ice, the sun's radiation is absorbed instead of being reflected back into the atmosphere. This again generates heat and speeds up melting. It's like wearing a black shirt on a sunny day. You're going to feel hot. To stay cooler, you would wear light shirts that reflect the sun's warmth. Scientists from around the world are studying black carbon from all possible angles. They're using ships, snowmobiles, weather balloons, as well as manned and unmanned aircraft to collect data.

(Describer) A small plane is launched.

The instruments onboard measure the total particles in the atmosphere, including the number of soot particles and chemicals that can identify where the soot comes from. They measure incoming radiation from the sun, and the reflectivity of snow and ice-covered surfaces. Newly fallen snow is analyzed to trace where the black carbon is coming from.

(Describer) A team drills for samples.

The bad news is that black carbon is contributing to the acceleration of sea ice melting in the Arctic. But since black carbon is a particle and not a gas, it doesn't last long in the atmosphere. This means reducing the amount produced can have immediate effects on the rate of climate change. Scientists are hopeful that the research findings from the Arctic will help world leaders develop strategies for change so that black carbon can no longer leave a dirty footprint on our world.

(Describer) Titles: Narrator: Rob Reese. Logos are shown for the Smithsonian and NOAA. Accessibility provided by the US Department of Education.

Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

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Black carbon is the fancy name for soot, and it is causing changes in the Arctic climate. It comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Studies suggest that black carbon is contributing to the acceleration of sea ice melting in the Arctic, and the loss of this ice would lead to more rapid warming and possibly irreversible climate change.

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