EPA Funds Research on Black Carbon

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Federal grants will support studies on a contributor to climate change.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded researchers at eight universities $6.6 million in federal grants to study the climate change and other environmental effects of black carbon, a soot-like substance emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, particularly in diesel-powered engines.

Black carbon can contribute to climate change when it accumulates in the air as an aerosol and alters the amount of heat that can leave the earth’s atmosphere. In addition to its effects on climate, black carbon can cause cardiovascular and respiratory health problems.

Although the impact of black carbon on global warming is still secondary to that of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, Professor Alain Plante in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania described black carbon emissions as “taking fossilized carbon – which normally cycles in millions of years – and moving it into the much faster moving pool of the atmosphere.” Professor Plante pointed out that “we understand mechanisms and processes, but a lot of it comes down to the accounting.” He added, “We need to constrain the error on the impact of black carbon.”

The black carbon research will be funded through EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, the arm of the agency that supports research on concerns ranging from safe drinking water to reducing particulate matter. The sponsored research on black carbon will also include studies of the material’s effects on water quality and the melting of snow and ice.