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LANL team looks at how wildfire soot absorbs sunlight, contributes to climate change


As wildfires char land in the western United States, they are not only destroying property and threatening water supplies. They’re also producing black carbon, or soot, which contributes to climate change.

Scientists have known for a while that black carbon, or soot, from wildfires absorbs sunlight and heats the atmosphere. But to what degree black carbon absorbs sunlight has been unknown.

This is in part because black carbon does not occur alone and other aerosols that linger around it can change how much sunlight is absorbed.

A team of researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory set out to better understand how much sunlight black carbon absorbs. James Lee is a climate researcher at LANL and a member of that team. He said certain elements found in the air along with black carbon can act as a magnifying glass, essentially focusing the sunlight on the black carbon and increasing how much is absorbed.

The results of the research were published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Lee is listed as the lead author.

By comparing the ratio of coating material—the organic aerosols found with the soot—to the volume of black carbon, the researchers found they could predict how much sunlight was absorbed.Black carbon, […]

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