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Arctic Haze

March 15, 2012

Walking through the North pole in the year 1893, the Norwegian explorer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Fridtjof Nansen, noticed the ice under his feet was covered in dark stains, this left him puzzled as to why and how such a pristine area might become so dirty.

Even before Nansen’s trip to the pole other explorers and whalers as far back as the year 1750 had not only seen the same stains but had also noticed a foggy layer which appeared to surround the northern skies.

This phenomenon is now known as Arctic Haze, a seasonal effect caused by trans-boundary anthropogenic pollution notably the burning of fossil fuels and especially coal-burning in Asian power plants; many of the pollutants are sulfur, mercury, aluminium, vanadium, manganese, and the rest is carbon, this gives the haze an unusual reddish colour.

Although other greenhouse gases are helping to thaw the arctic ice sheets the haze is also an obvious source of our global climate problems as it is part of the man made phenomenon of Global Dimming. During the dark Arctic winters the haze mixes with thin clouds allowing them to trap heat more easily, this is due to the fact that there is no precipitation to wash out the aerosols out of the sky.

Depending on the quantities of pollutants present the haze may show various colors. A major problem with Arctic Haze is that because of the lack of precipitation the chemicals may remain in the atmosphere for considerable periods of time raising the temperatures by up to 5.4 Deg. C during the winter season.

Readers wishing to do some further research on the Arctic Haze phenomenon might like to read this excellent research paper from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin Lack permalink
    March 15, 2012 8:48 pm

    Another excellent post, Donald.

    I was sure I had posted something on the (1979) Montreal Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) – the international agreement reached that led to Acid Rain problem being tackled – but it would appear that I have not.

    However, what you have done here is very important – you have linked LRTAP to global dimming, fossil fuel use, and climate change. In other words you have closed the circle. This is a circle that our political leaders need to look into very soon (and therefore need to pull their heads out of another “circle” very fast)… 🙂

    • March 15, 2012 9:24 pm

      I’ve just re-edited the blog and added an excellent research paper from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska.

      In 1983, the author proposed that global climate might be regulated with a machine that uses natural sulfur as its fuel.

      This climate regulation machine might operate several ways; one is by scattering light back to space from a haze that forms as a consequence of microscopic plant and animal life in the oceans. The idea has evolved since and continues to be pursued as a paradigm.

      I’m not too sure I like the idea but there it is.

      • Martin Lack permalink
        March 15, 2012 10:02 pm

        I’m not too sure I like the idea of technological optimism (i.e. what students and researchers of environmental politics call “Prometheanism“*). End of story.

        * Prometheanism is the belief that we will find salvation from all our environmental problems in the ingenuity of human beings; as distinct from “Cornucopianism”, which holds that “nature’s bounty” will prevent environmental catastrophe. Unfortunately, both fail to recognise the unprecedented nature, scale, and urgency of the problem we have created by burning fossil fuels faster than nature can re-process the waste product of their combustion… and both are therefore wrong!

      • March 16, 2012 1:56 am

        “a haze that forms as a consequence of microscopic plant and animal life in the oceans. ”

        Would that be from the trillions of tonnes of dead fish and algae that will soon be floating in our oceans due to death by calcification?

        or maybe they mean the “haze” that will soon be formed from the squizillions of phytoplankton bodies currently roasting alive thanks to the depletion of the ozone layer.

        Either way there is no need for science to make it happen, I am sure climate warming is heading in that direction right now 😦

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