Thursday, May 26, 2016

New Tar Sands Impact on Climate, Air Quality Found

An open pit where tar sands are mined, with a heavy hauler truck that is used to transport oil sand to processing facilities. (Credit: Environment Canada) Click to Enlarge.
In one of the first studies of its kind, scientists have found that tar sands production in Canada is one of North America’s largest sources of secondary organic aerosols — air pollutants that affect the climate, cloud formation, and public health.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, showed that the production of tar sands and other heavy oil — thick, highly viscous crude oil that is difficult to produce — are a major source of aerosols, a component of fine particle air pollution, which can affect regional weather patterns and increase the risk of lung and heart disease.

Aerosols from the production of heavy oil is a growing climate and pollution concern because new tar sands developments are on the drawing board in Venezuela, Utah and elsewhere, the study says.  Today, heavy oil accounts for 10 percent of global crude oil production worldwide, mostly in Canada, which produced about 1.1 billion barrels of oil in 2014.

“The results indicate that the environmental impacts of Canadian tar sands are much larger than previously recognized,” said Allen Robinson, a mechanical engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who is unaffiliated with the study.  “What is so novel about this paper is that tar sands were not on anybody’s radar as a major source of aerosol.”
In a separate study published Wednesday, researchers at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Japan, said aerosols in the Arctic have a “profound” impact on the global climate system.  Climate models often underestimate the extent to which aerosols from industrial air pollution — especially those containing black carbon — warm the atmosphere because they assume Arctic air is cleaner than it actually is, the study said.

Black carbon contained within some aerosols can be deposited on Arctic ice sheets and mountain snowpack.  The black carbon spread across the ice darkens its color, absorbing more heat and causing the ice to melt more quickly.  Less ice and snow on the earth’s surface reduces the earth’s ability to reflect sunlight, increasing surface temperatures.

Read more at New Tar Sands Impact on Climate, Air Quality Found

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