We’re about to kill a massive, accidental experiment in reducing global warming

I’ve always thought that clean air laws decreased SO2 , increased sunshine and therefore warming.

Well … there is a new law that may change climate.

In effect, the shipping industry has been carrying out an unintentional experiment in climate engineering for more than a century. Global mean temperatures could be as much as 0.25 ˚C lower than they would otherwise have been, based on the mean “forcing effect” calculated by a 2009 study that pulled together other findings (see “The Growing Case for Geoengineering”). For a world struggling to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 ˚C, that’s a big helping hand.

And we’re about to take it away.

In 2016, the UN’s International Maritime Organization announced that by 2020, international shipping vessels will have to significantly cut sulfur pollution. Specifically, ship owners must switch to fuels with no more than 0.5 percent sulfur content, down from the current 3.5 percent, or install exhaust cleaning systems that achieve the same reduction, Shell noted in a brochure for customers.

There are very good reasons to cut sulfur: it contributes to both ozone depletion and acid rain, and it can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems.

But as a 2009 paper in Environmental Science & Technology noted, limiting sulfur emissions is a double-edged sword. “Given these reductions, shipping will, relative to present-day impacts, impart a ‘double warming’ effect: one from [carbon dioxide], and one from the reduction of [sulfur dioxide],” wrote the authors. “Therefore, after some decades the net climate effect of shipping will shift from cooling to warming.”

Sulfur pollution from coal burning has a similar effect. Some studies suggest that China’s surge in coal consumption over the last decade partly offset the recent global warming trend (though coal does have a strong net warming effect).

It’s difficult to estimate how much the new rule could affect temperatures. We don’t know enough about cloud physics and the behavior of atmospheric particles, nor how diligently the shipping industry will comply with the new rule, says Robert Wood, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

Another wrinkle is that ships emit other particles that can sometimes also stimulate cloud droplets to form, including black carbon, a major component of soot. Removing the sulfur from the fuel could alter the size and quantity of these particles, which could affect clouds as well, says Lynn Russell, a professor of atmospheric science at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“So we can’t really say exactly what the change will be,” says Russell, though she adds that the rule change is “likely” to produce a warming effect on balance.

… read the rest: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/610007/were-about-to-kill-a-massive-accidental-experiment-in-halting-global-warming/

 

PS There is a problem with the expensive scrubbers that are an alternative to low sulphur fuel.  The ships dump the waste into the ocean. The waste will be sulphuric acid (and more)

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Diesel , Lightning , Ships and Clouds

If true this makes a huge case for eliminating diesel and switching to Natural Gas for shipping.

“The new study is the first to show ship exhaust can alter thunderstorm intensity. The researchers conclude that particles from ship exhaust make cloud droplets smaller, lifting them higher in the atmosphere. This creates more ice particles and leads to more lightning.

The results provide some of the first evidence that humans are changing cloud formation on a nearly continual basis, rather than after a specific incident like a wildfire, according to the authors. Cloud formation can affect rainfall patterns and alter climate by changing how much sunlight clouds reflect to space.

“It’s one of the clearest examples of how humans are actually changing the intensity of storm processes on Earth through the emission of particulates from combustion,” said Joel Thornton, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle and lead author of the new study in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

“It is the first time we have, literally, a smoking gun, showing over pristine ocean areas that the lightning amount is more than doubling,” said Daniel Rosenfeld, an atmospheric scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who was not connected to the study. “The study shows, highly unambiguously, the relationship between anthropogenic emissions — in this case, from diesel engines — on deep convective clouds.””

Lightning

“In the new study, co-author Katrina Virts, an atmospheric scientist at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, was analyzing data from the World Wide Lightning Location Network, a network of sensors that locates lightning strokes all over the globe, when she noticed a nearly straight line of lightning strokes across the Indian Ocean.

Virts and her colleagues compared the lightning location data to maps of ships’ exhaust plumes from a global database of ship emissions. Looking at the locations of 1.5 billion lightning strokes from 2005 to 2016, the team found nearly twice as many lightning strokes on average over major routes ships take across the northern Indian Ocean, through the Strait of Malacca and into the South China Sea, compared to adjacent areas of the ocean that have similar climates.

More than $5 trillion of world trade passes through the South China Sea every year and nearly 100,000 ships pass through the Strait of Malacca alone. Lightning is a measure of storm intensity, and the researchers detected the uptick in lightning at least as far back as 2005.

“All we had to do was make a map of where the lightning was enhanced and a map of where the ships are travelling and it was pretty obvious just from the co-location of both of those that the ships were somehow involved in enhancing lightning,” Thornton said.”