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Cutting soot, methane does less to counter global warming than we thought: study


New satellite images from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center show that climate change is lengthening growing seasons, allowing forests and crops to grow in northern latitudes.


NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Controlling short-lived climate-warming emissions like soot and methane may not actually prove as effective as previously believed when it comes to helping cool the planet, new research from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has shown. 

"Cutting back only on soot and methane emissions will help the climate, but not as much as previously thought," said lead study author Steve Smith, of the PNNL.

"If we want to stabilize the climate system, we need to focus on greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Concentrating on soot and methane alone is not likely to offer much of a shortcut," he said in the statement.

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How did researchers determine these findings, which were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal?

Smith and research assistant Andrew Mizrahi used a computer model dubbed the Global Change Assessment Model to run through various scenarios involving aerosol particles on the computer, including what would happen in a theoretical, idealized world where both soot and methane had been severely cut by 2035. 

The results were demoralizing for the soot-and-methane reduction contingent.

The models found that a temperature reduction of only 0.16 degrees Celsius by 2050, much less than a 0.5 degree reduction indicated in earlier climate change studies, according to PNNL. 

Reducing these short-term emissions has until now been considered a good choice for reducing climate change. Nearly 30 nations have joined a US initiative to cut such pollutants, as no broad international deal to reduce emissions has yet been successful, writes Reuters. 

The researchers stressed that the findings don't mean that cutting soot and methane emissions wouldn't be helpful.

"Our results don't change previous findings that soot and methane emission reductions would have beneficial effects for health and agriculture," said Smith to Reuters.