NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 10, 2007

The haze of pollution called the "Asian Brown Cloud," caused by wood and dung burned for fuel, may be doing more harm than the tailpipes of our SUVs, according to a new study published in the Aug. 2 issue of the British science journal Nature.

Researchers led by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California, launched three unmanned aircraft last March from the Maldives island of Hanimadhoo to fly through the Brown Cloud at various altitudes.

A total of 18 missions were flown to explore the blanket of soot, dust and smoke that at times is two miles thick and covers an area about the size of the United States.  According to the researchers:

  • The cloud of soot and particulate matter boosted the effect of solar heating on the surrounding air by as much as 50 percent.
  • These findings also may help to explain the rapid melting among the 46,000 glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau and why the Himalayan glaciers have been retreating since at least 1780.
  • This phenomenon also might help explain why carbon dioxide emissions and global temperatures don't track very well, if at all.

The Asian Brown Cloud was first discovered by Ramanathan in 1999.  He grew up near Madras, India, where his mother, like millions of other Indian homemakers, cooked with dried cow dung -- a plentiful, and renewable, source of cheap fuel that was a good source of heat.

Such pollution, because it contains the residue from hundreds of millions of dung-fueled cooking fires and inefficient wood and coal furnaces, carries an unusually large amount of soot.

S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, finds it "ironic that much of (this) pollution could be avoided by the use of cleaner fossil fuels, like gas, oil, and even coal, all of which release CO2."

Source: Editorial, "Clouding The Issue," Investor's Business Daily, August 10, 2007.


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