The study, published in the Environmental Science and Technology Letter, found that 26 percent of all airborne particles were turbulent, which is bad news for a variety of reasons. A new study has analyzed the composition of particles in the air in mountain ranges across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Bhutan, and Nepal and discovered the abundant and disturbing presence of brown carbon “tarballs”.
As the Himalayan region has the highest peaks of any mountain in the world and has the largest reserves of glacial ice outside the Arctic and Antarctic circles, sometimes naming it the “Third Pole”. However, being so high and isolated, the region has not been protected from industrial air pollution.
Brown carbon is carbon mixed with oxygen but there are also traces of other elements such as nitrogen, sulfur, and potassium. It is primarily produced by burning biomass or plants and ends up forming wire, small, organic spheres spanning only a few hundred nanometers. The carbonaceous substances in the atmosphere are divided into black carbon and brown carbon. Black carbon is a fine particle that is essentially pure carbon. It is usually formed in incomplete combustion at high temperatures and is a major component of glass.
Previous studies have long highlighted the effects of black carbon on the region, how these aerosols travel in air mass trajectories from China and India to the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas. Brown carbon has long been suspected of following the same path.
Air samples were taken at a remote high-altitude recording station in the northern Himalayas, and the team found that 26 percent of the thousands of particles were turbulent. They were even able to produce brown carbon using satellite data and wind patterns in the Indo-Gangetic plain, especially in the case of extensive wheat burning. They were able to attach an additional number of turbulence when an increased level of contamination occurred. The particles were probably pressed towards the Himalayas before the rains and then before they landed on the ice of the Tibetan Plateau where the Qomolangma Research Center is located.
Researchers have suggested that based on this work, future climate models should include long-distance travel for a more accurate picture. This tarball is both light and heat-absorbing, making it harder for snow and ice to reflect the sun’s rays and making glaciers easier to melt.