(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists from the University of Oxford have found that air pollution can help cool the planet and partly protect against warming due to greenhouse gases.
Some of the aerosols emitted by ships show up on satellite images as long white streaks called ship wakes.
The scientists used data from a global database of ship routes, which contains more than two million tracks over six years. The results showed that these traces represent only 5% of the total pollution.
Using weather data, the scientists modeled where these emissions might have hit the clouds, allowing them to study the effect of the aerosol even without visible ship tracks.
Once in the clouds, the particles make them more durable and also allow them to scatter more sunlight. This is partly due to the fact that emissions increase the humidity inside the clouds.
Previous studies have suggested that emissions from ships had a small drying effect on clouds, so scientists may have previously underestimated how much air pollution cools the atmosphere.
However, anthropogenic aerosols are very short-lived compared to the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by cars and coal-fired power plants. It will exist centuries later, and aerosols will cease to have an effect in a month.
The study showed how reducing air pollution alone can lead to unintended climate warming. But regulation of air pollution is not contrary to climate protection. In many cases, both are achievable by addressing their common cause, which is fossil fuels.
Polluted air causes the death of approximately seven million people every year. Airborne particles, when inhaled, can cause heart and lung disease and cancer in humans.
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