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Earth Transportation Science

Cars Emit More Black Carbon Than Previously Thought 292

Posted by timothy
from the grand-circle-of-nature dept.
First time accepted submitter LilaG writes "Gasoline-burning engines put out twice as much black carbon as was previously measured, according to new field methods tested in Toronto. The tiny particles known as black carbon pack a heavy punch when it comes to climate change, by trapping heat in the atmosphere and by alighting atop, and melting, Arctic ice. With an eye toward controlling these emissions, researchers have tracked black carbon production from fossil fuel combustion in gasoline-burning cars and diesel-burning trucks. Until this study was published [abstract of paywalled article], gas-burning vehicles had been thought to be relatively minor players."
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Cars Emit More Black Carbon Than Previously Thought

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  • Here it comes. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by philip.paradis (2580427) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:10AM (#39155921)

    Everybody put on your flame retardant suits in preparation for the inevitable flame war between global warming believers and deniers, which will almost certainly drown out discussion of the technical specifics of the referenced materials.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not that I deny global warming. It's just that I'm all for it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'm not a denier, or a supporter - I just think it's inevitable.

        China and India are going to have the last word on this issue. I'll leave it to them to fix it. Baring a pandemic, it's going to be their world anyway. This is neither good nor bad, it just is.

    • Re:Here it comes. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@justconnected . n et> on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:42AM (#39156047)

      True global warming "believers" don't believe, they looked at the available evidence and weighed the opinions of experts and came to a conclusion based on facts and consensus.

      I don't know which side you fall on, so this isn't directed to you, but my personal theory is that people who dismiss the international scientific consensus on global warming have faith that it's not happening, and figure that the "believers" are also arguing based on faith. It's the same as evolution - creationists don't believe in science, so they think that the arguments they fight are based on belief.

      I refuse to play into this. Undoubtedly there are people that "believe" in global warming, and they tend to do things like buy Priuses to replace their 25 MPG Toyotas.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by BenJCarter (902199)
        What is a true global warming "believer"? How do you prove scientific "consensus"? Consensus is a political term. As such, it should have miniscule weight, at best, in climate science.
        • Re:Here it comes. (Score:4, Informative)

          by riverat1 (1048260) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @05:10AM (#39157049)

          Consensus in science is when most of the scientists in a field (except for the crackpots) quite arguing about something because they have nothing to argue about. They all agree on the particulars of a point.

          • Most != many. It's more along the lines of the prevailing theory of the day...the point being that the theories are often mutable.

            And again, as a scientist, the public sees more of a consensus that what actually exists in most fields of science.

            But then, feel free to argue that I'm wrong. I have a hypothesis that you will.

          • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @07:23AM (#39157397)

            Or when you hit the limits of knowledge at the time. Good example would be Newton's laws as applied to planetary motion. Newton was able to work out a great deal about gravity on a universal scale, and how bodies worked in a two body system. However it broke down when he tried to apply it to the multi-body of the solar system. So he invokes god for the first and only time in the Principia "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being."

            This remained the scientific consensus on the matter. Newton was more or less The Guy when it came to physics. In two books (Principia and Opticks) he did more to advance the understanding of physics than more or less anyone before or hence. So this remained what scientists though for many years. You could explain gravity in terms of a two body problem, but the complexity of the heavens? God did it.

            Up until Laplace. He worked out a method for figuring it all out. He could explain the stability of the solar system without invoking god. When asked by Napoleon about why he didn't mention god he said "I had no need of that hypothesis." (for a great talk on all this watch Dr. Tyson's "The god of the gaps").

            Now the point of all this is that just because there is a general consensus on something, doesn't mean it is right. Doesn't mean it is wrong either, but trying to say something like "only the crackpots would argue with consensus," is silly. There have been things that were the consensus that was believed, until a better theory was proposed and tested.

            Feynman also gives a good example of the groupthink type of activity with regards to that Millikan's value for the charge of an electron. To quote:

            "It's a little bit off, because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It's interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of the electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bigger than Millikan's, and the next one's a little bit bigger than
            that, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

            Why didn't they discover that the new number was higher right away? It's a thing that scientists are ashamed of--this history--because it's apparent that people did things like this: When they got a number that was too high above Millikan's, they thought something must be wrong--and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number closer to Millikan's value they didn't look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that."

            Right there you can see the effects of a sort of scientific groupthink. "My result is too far off from the accepted value, something must be wrong."

            Just keep in mind that science isn't about consensus. That there is a consensus doesn't mean it is right, or wrong. Also be wary when people appeal to consensus, that's what you see in advertisements, not science. When people talk about evolution, they talk about evidence, not consensus.

            • by BasilBrush (643681) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @09:12AM (#39157699)

              But Newton (and the consensus behind him) wasn't wrong. It was just incomplete.

              And that is the status of AGW too. There's enough science to know that the fundamental greenhouse effect from CO2 etc. is correct. And to know humans increase the CO2 in the atmosphere. But there's obviously plenty more to to be added to scientific understanding of the effect.

              There's no right/wrong dichotomy. And the deniers are deluded if they think that one day something is going to be discovered that makes if all disappear in a flurry of "mea culpa!'

              • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @11:36AM (#39158383)

                There are believers and deniers to you. There seems to be no room for anything else. You are either a true believer, or an evil denier.

                I think you mistake what some people claim. They don't claim there will be a big event of "Oh we were all wrong about everything, nothing is getting warmer!" Rather, they think that time will show that the panic was for naught. They believe the theory of action is sound, the predicted results are not.

                For example perhaps the warming is not as much as predicted. That is a valid position since it is all based on computer modeling (and remember models don't prove anything, they model and predict) and as the models have been revised, the estimates for the warming have gone down. Compare the official IPCC prediction from 1990 to the one from 2001. The predicted warming is much less. Neither match the actual temperature record for the past 10 years so perhaps further revision is required.

                Or as another example, perhaps the warming is not problematic. If you read the reports you'll see there is far form a consensus on that. There are multiple scenarios, which are not assigned probabilities. Even among those who are part of the consensus (for lack of a better term) there is disagreement over what might happen and their scenarios are not exhaustive.

                Those are examples of the arguments some people make. Not that it is all a bunch of made up bullshit (yes I'm aware some people make that argument too) that'll get exposed as such, but that it is being blown way out of proportion and we'll look back on it and say "Well that was much ado about nothing."

                • by BasilBrush (643681) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @11:54AM (#39158465)

                  Yet you seem to think there is such a dichotomy

                  No, I think there's shades of grey, with the same old deniers stopping at each shade for a while along the way. Then moving on after they find the old shade of grey untenable. As I posted elsewhere:

                  The Republican 9 Step Global Warming Denial Plan
                  1) There's no such thing as global warming.
                  2) There's global warming, but the scientists are exaggerating. It's not significant.
                  3) There's significant global warming, but man doesn't cause it.
                  4) Man does cause it, but it's not a net negative.
                  5) It is a net negative, but it's not economically possible to tackle it.
                  6) We need to tackle global warming, so make the poor pay for it.
                  7) Global warming is bad for business. Why did the Democrats not tackle it earlier?
                  8) ????
                  9) Profit.

            • It's interesting you bring up Newton, because we still use Newtonian physics today for most purposes. Nobody is using quantum physics to model valvetrain dynamics, for example. We use simple molecular models even to figure out how the air will move through the valves. If you're trying to figure out where a bullet goes, you can ask Newton.

              If you're trying to figure out how to reduce AGW, you can work on what you know you're doing wrong, and much of that is CO2 and soot emissions.

              • I made no comment on what I think about global warming or CO2 emissions. I don't in these debates not because I don't have an opinion but because I find it more instructive to see what positions people ascribe to me.

                The reason I brought up Newton was not to bash on the man, he was a genius without equal. I was simply using it as a demonstration of the limits of knowledge, that even the greatest can face, and how those limits can change.

                My point is simply that consensus isn't something you can point to and s

            • by riverat1 (1048260) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @02:36PM (#39159489)

              Reading your comment made me think of Isaac Azimov's essay The Relativity of Wrong. [tufts.edu] To quote from it:

              My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

      • Re:Here it comes. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @02:28AM (#39156513) Journal

        but my personal theory is that people who dismiss the international scientific consensus on global warming have faith that it's not happening, and figure that the "believers" are also arguing based on faith.

        You could just ask some real skeptics, the kind who actually do science, why they dismiss the 'scientific consensus.' [wsj.com]

        the claim of 97% support is deceptive. The surveys contained trivial polling questions that even we would agree with. Thus, these surveys find that large majorities agree that temperatures have increased since 1800 and that human activities have some impact..... But what is being disputed is the size and nature of the human contribution to global warming.

        It drives me crazy when people point to a survey like this that shows 97% consensus, and then say, "therefore scientists all think we should send a hundred billion a year to poor countries [guardian.co.uk]." There's no scientific consensus on that at all, nor is there any consensus that there will be a disaster as a result of AGW. If people even read the questions of the surveys they quote, they would understand this.

        • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @07:02AM (#39157309)

          The problem I see is that someone gets labeled a "denialist" if they don't take everything, part and parcel. If they disagree with anything an advocate says they are a "denialist" and "ignoring science". Well no, because there are different levels to the whole thing. To run it down:

          --First there's fact of global warming: That average surface temperature is increasing, outside of known cycles. This is a claim of fact, a claim of an observation about what is. Provided the measurements it is based on are accurate, it isn't up for debate. Only thing you can question is if the measurements are indeed correct.

          --Then there's the theory to explain that fact: That the primary or exclusive cause of this warming is an increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere due to human emissions. This is the basic theory of global warming. It is a scientific theory, in that it proposes a logical explanation for the relation of the facts at hand. Like all theories, it can be argued. You can agree with all the facts underlying a theory, but disagree with the theory as the explanation because it is incomplete, because it can be falsified, etc.

          Now if that's all there was, then ok. However we go on.

          --Next there's the assumption/assertion that this change is a net bad thing for humanity. This is not a theory, this is a claim based on some theories and some hypothesis, often with flimsy or no evidence. This isn't a situation where you have a single theory you can evaluate. You have all kinds of claims being made, and also other claims being dismissed or ignored. It is an overall position that the many changes will be a net negative to humanity, even a catastrophe.

          --Finally there's the policy/politics of what to do about it: That the only solution is to massively decrease CO2 output and to achieve this we use things like carbon credits and so on. This is not at all in the realm of science, this policy, or politics. There are other suggested solutions that could be debated for their merits, there is question if this solution would even be effective over all. However it is the one that many advocates seem to propose as the One True Way(tm).

          So therein lies the problem. Anyone who dares disagree with any part of this is lumped in as a "denialist". Someone could say "I agree with the measurements, and I think they theory of warming is correct. However I disagree it will be a net negative, I think it will be a net positive," and they get labeled as a "denalist," and "anti-science." Someone could even say "I agree it is happening and is a net negative, however I don't think CO2 reduction will help, I think we need to instead spend money to be able to deal with the change, since even if it didn't happen, another non-man made change would anyhow and we need to survive them," and again with the "denialist" and "anti-science" claims.

          Hence why people start talking about AGW proponents as being true believers and acting like religious folk. It is this position of "You have to accept and agree with EVERYTHING, otherwise you are a moron/against us/etc." Sorry but that isn't how science works. If you want to talk science you have to limit your debate to scientific theories and facts (remember facts are observations about what is, theories explain the relations of the facts). That doesn't mean you can't talk about what should be done, but you can't claim that the "science" only supports one answer. That's not how it works.

          • Ok, this isn't a part and parcel thing. Increased global temperatures (and this is fact, not theory) will have a massive negative impact on humanity, AND the other millions of species that are all a part of the ecosystem we depend on to survive. Humans have, through our actions over the last 150 years or so, increased global carbon emissions at a rate that our ecosystem cannot handle through evolution. We are creating a disaster on a scale that will extinct thousands of species and take millions of years to
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            The reason we must control CO2 output if it affects global weather (and there is every bit of evidence that it does — the same physicists you trust to make stuff work can tell you why CO2 causes global warming) is that we have no viable strategy for fixing it.

            We have technically feasible solutions but they depend on even greater changes in lifestyle which is why they probably won't happen. But we can control our CO2 output, force people to buy credits which (should) result in trees planted and so on.

      • "True global warming "believers" don't believe, they looked at the available evidence and weighed the opinions of experts and came to a conclusion based on facts and consensus."

        As do a fair number of people on the other side (review the facts, and come up wanting). To believe that your side is made up of all the scientists, and the other side purely people with "faith" is to deny that the other side, in an objective manner, could possibly have any merit to their argument. It's the same argument religious fa

        • You use that word, consensus, and I do not think you understand what it means. There have, many times, in the due course of history, been scientific consensuses about any number of topics; a number of them have, thus far, been proven, and a number of them, thus far, proven wrong. As such, that word is not a form of currency that gives your argument or side any worth.

          For a self professed scientist you don't know much probability theory. It would only not give any worth, it the number of times a scientific consensus was wrong was equal to the number of times one was correct.

          If you think those two numbers are approximately equal, then your knowledge of science history is as bad as your knowledge of probability.

          Note that in reality of course there isn't a right/wrong dichotomy. It's more often a case of not yet complete. For example strictly speaking Newton's Laws of Motio

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        The problem is that there are "believers" on both sides of the fence. So you've got the Big Oil-faithful, and you've got the Magic Carbon Pixie-faithful. The former are probably wrong, the latter are probably right for the wrong reasons.

        The global warming believers - when they're not gibbering on about homeopathy and astrology - will go on at length about how over the past decade we've seen record high temperatures in summer. Of course, because they're only parrotting what they've read online or heard fr

        • The global warming believers - when they're not gibbering on about homeopathy and astrology

          That's not a reasonable association. AGW is science, homeopathy and astrology are anti-science.

          That association only reveals something about you. That you think AGW is for hippies.

          • by Gordonjcp (186804)

            No, I think blind AGW faith is for the kind of credulous fools that believe any old rubbish the press throws at them without bothering to examine the facts.

            AGW is anti-scientific nonsense.

    • Re:Here it comes. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by russotto (537200) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:49AM (#39156073) Journal

      Everybody put on your flame retardant suits in preparation for the inevitable flame war between global warming believers and deniers, which will almost certainly drown out discussion of the technical specifics of the referenced materials.

      Fortunately, the methodology is terribly sloppy anyway, so there's nothing serious to discuss. The researchers directly measured 30 trucks. Then they measured the total cloud of particles downwind of the traffic. There was more carbon than they'd expect given the measured value for trucks and the estimated value for cars. Therefore the cars must be emitting much more on average. Oddly, they never directly measured any cars. The idea that the additional black carbon might be due to some other source besides the cars was apparently not considered.

      • Thank you for your sanity. Both the EPA and the design engineer know exactly how much PM is coming out the pipe for every model. Every company doing engines of any sort has spent billions or tens of billions on meeting emissions requirements.

        By the way, I've read some interesting speculation that limiting soot emissions actually speeds up global warming. Nobody is saying we should pollute more, just that clean air doesn't obscure sunlight as much and therefore retards global warming. This was speculated

        • No, you're 100% correct. Sulfate aerosols have a cooling effect, since they reflect incoming solar radiation, while having no effect on outgoing infrared radiation. The push to improve air quality standards is actually increasing the effect of global warming.
      • Re:Here it comes. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by micheas (231635) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:19AM (#39156215) Homepage Journal

        Although it is possible that the other source was the tires from the vehicles.

        I have never seen an explanation of tire and asphalt wear that seemed like it accurately explained what is happening to the rubber compounds in the tire, as the road does not build up, but rather wear down.

        The emissions from gasoline engines in modern motor vehicles is amazingly low, so tires and lubricants might actually be noticeable. But this is just speculation, sort of like the conclusions of the report.

        • by thsths (31372)

          > Although it is possible that the other source was the tires from the vehicles.

          Or the breaks. Both wear down, and both wear carbon. You don't need a scientific study to understand that it is going somewhere. Assuming it is not burned, it would most likely end up as carbon black.

          And there are a few studies on this topic, it is just not as "hot" as engine emissions.

        • by Gordonjcp (186804)

          Even older engines are surprisingly clean if they're well-maintained. It also helps if you run on cleaner fuels, which is why I'm converting my 1988 Citroen CX to run on gas.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Ever tried polishing something without polishing compound?

          Sand and dirt blow onto the road and fall off of cars along with rust. All used to grind the road down.

          Touch the road, touch your car's tire, the road is wearing the tires away into dust which yes, blows everywhere, accumulates under your vehicle, et cetera. But it's not the tires wearing away the road, it's the grit.

      • Yeah, it could have been from the coal burning power plant in Michigan. Who knows, right?
    • It's "Afro-American Carbon", please.
      • by tepples (727027)
        Not when some notable African Americans are white [wnd.com]. What else do you call someone of European descent born in South Africa who moves to the United States?
  • Does this mean that the massive polluters, such as airplanes and very large cargo boats are also giving out twice as much black carbon?
    • Okay, I know to RTFA is unheard of, but

      The researchers followed 30 heavy-duty, diesel-burning vehicles and collected samples of their exhaust. They found that the trucks belched out levels of black carbon similar to those documented by prior studies.

      So, no. My choice of engine is vindicated once again. Now if I can just get my 300SD back on the road I win. Wastegate's sticking.

    • Cargo ships actually give off the worst exhaust out of anything. When they're in international waters, they burn the dirtiest, cheapest fuel they can find, since there are no emission standards, only to switch to a cleaner fuel when they come to port to meet local environmental standards
  • by tragedy (27079) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:26AM (#39155991)

    Why does this treat particulates as only a concern because they contribute to climate change? That's a potential problem, to be sure, but particulate emissions are a much more immediate environmental concern for those breathing them in. If the levels have been underestimated this much, that's a problem for people's health, especially along highways and in cities. Why does climate change have to be the be all and end all of all environmental impact discussions? Is it because it's so contentious and the ongoing feud drives page hits?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Estimated? Hell, measured by .5 of actual. What about the places with emissions checks on vehicles? If the findings in this study are true, I want every fucking dime that I've spent on emissions checks over the years back.
    • If the levels have been underestimated this much, that's a problem for people's health, especially along highways and in cities.

      Actually no, if the levels have been underestimated this much, that means the tolerable level of pollution before someone gets cancer is much higher than had been previously calculated. This is such good news, I think I'm going to light myself up a cigar.

    • by introcept (1381101) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @02:20AM (#39156481)

      Why does this treat particulates as only a concern because they contribute to climate change? That's a potential problem, to be sure, but particulate emissions are a much more immediate environmental concern for those breathing them in. If the levels have been underestimated this much, that's a problem for people's health, especially along highways and in cities. Why does climate change have to be the be all and end all of all environmental impact discussions? Is it because it's so contentious and the ongoing feud drives page hits?

      Because a short term, localised and fairly minor reduction in people's health is a much smaller problem than an irreversible change to the climate and biosphere of the entire planet. Even if your only concern is health, people's health will suffer a lot more when they have to deal with economic hardship and resource shortages that could result from climate change.

    • This is it exactly. Every time I hear a climate change debate raging, I look out the window and contemplate the ring of brown foulness circling the valley I live in and wonder why we're not talking about that. Forget what rainfall in the Sudan will be in 25 years, we need to get the mainstream focus on what burning fossil fuels is doing to us right now.
    • by thsths (31372)

      > particulate emissions are a much more immediate environmental concern

      Agreed. And I have a potential explanation, too. Every once in a while you will encounter a vehicle that is dragging a black smoke cloud behind it - usually caused by a faulty Diesel engine. Just yesterday I was behind an especially bad example: I thought he was using it as some kind of camouflage - that's how dense it was.

      So my theory is that most of the particle emissions come from very few vehicles: maybe some very old ones, but ce

      • by bhtooefr (649901)

        The interesting thing about diesel particulates is that they're not the problem.

        Diesels don't emit much in the way of microfine particulates, ESPECIALLY ones that are spewing clouds of soot - they emit big huge (easily visible to the eye) particulates that fall out of the air relatively quickly, and don't go nearly as deep in the lungs as the microfines from gasoline engines.

        In other words, what you can see is relatively harmless, what you can't see is the really dangerous stuff.

    • I'm surprised that the impact on climate change was emphasised; in the media here (NL) this is hardly ever mentioned, they usually mention Euro emission standards, and the impact of these emissions on health. In any case, the study claims that emission levels of black carbon may have been underestimated in certain cases, not the average/total measured concentration of carbon in the air.

      By the way, the concentration of carbon in the air in densely populated areas has been dropping for over a century, and
  • by quacking duck (607555) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:08AM (#39156173)

    Just one more reason I turn my car off instead of idling gas away when I know I'll be stopped for more than 30 seconds--stopped at a red light, waiting for someone, etc. The break even point (idling vs. gas used when re-starting car and offsetting battery drain) is around 10 seconds, I'd previously heard up to 20 seconds.

    This makes even more sense in several US cities I've visited, where some red lights last for 1-3 minutes!

    If this is too pooh-pooh environmentalist BS for you, then approach it from a selfish point of view--you're wasting gas and therefore money. If you're idling for 5 minutes a day, after a year that's 10 gallons wasted gas a year if you have a small-engine car, or 20 gallons for a V8. Do the math with your area's current gas prices, and sure, $30-$100 over one year isn't THAT much, but it's not pocket change either.

    Source [thehcf.org], which also addresses old myths that say why we should idle.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      You, much like that article seem to be forgetting the wear cost on the vehicle. Starting unless there's a pre-oil pump even when the vehicle is hot does damage, and you're also causing hard stress damage to other components restarting the car like that. Timing chains, more so belts on most vehicles. Bearings, gaskets and so on don't take shutting off and restarting off and on in rapid succession very well. Especially with all the lightweight materials we use in engines these days.

  • Anyone who has ever rebuilt an automobile engine could have guessed this.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I've rebuilt an engine, or participated in same anyway, and I couldn't have guessed that gasoline produced as much soot as diesel, because I'm not that good with chemistry/physics. What you can see when you take the engine apart is certainly related to what happens in the combustion chamber, but it doesn't necessarily all lie out before you.

  • Global warming concerns aside, particulate matter, especially fine particulate matter is known to aggravate respiratory issues in humans causing deaths and hospitalizations.

    Moving high concentrations of these pollutants away from population centers through electrification will improve the health of people living near roads.

    Yes - power plants should have improved scrubbers installed as well to reduce their particulate emissions as well.

  • 'The tiny particles known as black carbon pack a heavy punch when it comes to climate change, by trapping heat in the atmosphere and by alighting atop, and melting, Arctic ice.'

    Oh well, at least the Antarctic and Glacial Ice arent effected.

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