Articles | Volume 11, issue 6
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 2837–2852, 2011
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 2837–2852, 2011

Research article 25 Mar 2011

Research article | 25 Mar 2011

Origin and radiative forcing of black carbon transported to the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau

M. Kopacz1, D. L. Mauzerall2,1, J. Wang3, E. M. Leibensperger4, D. K. Henze5, and K. Singh6 M. Kopacz et al.
  • 1Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
  • 2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
  • 3Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE, USA
  • 4School of Engineering and Applied Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
  • 5Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Colorado-Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 6Computer Science Department, Virginia Polytechnic University, Blacksburg, VA, USA

Abstract. The remote and high elevation regions of central Asia are influenced by black carbon (BC) emissions from a variety of locations. BC deposition contributes to melting of glaciers and questions exist, of both scientific and policy interest, as to the origin of the BC reaching the glaciers. We use the adjoint of the GEOS-Chem model to identify the location from which BC arriving at a variety of locations in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau originates. We then calculate its direct and snow-albedo radiative forcing. We analyze the seasonal variation in the origin of BC using an adjoint sensitivity analysis, which provides a detailed map of the location of emissions that directly contribute to black carbon concentrations at receptor locations. We find that emissions from northern India and central China contribute the majority of BC to the Himalayas, although the precise location varies with season. The Tibetan Plateau receives most BC from western and central China, as well as from India, Nepal, the Middle East, Pakistan and other countries. The magnitude of contribution from each region varies with season and receptor location. We find that sources as varied as African biomass burning and Middle Eastern fossil fuel combustion can significantly contribute to the BC reaching the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau. We compute radiative forcing in the snow-covered regions and find the forcing due to the BC induced snow-albedo effect to vary from 5–15 W m−2 within the region, an order of magnitude larger than radiative forcing due to the direct effect, and with significant seasonal variation in the northern Tibetan Plateau. Radiative forcing from reduced snow albedo likely accelerates glacier melting. Our analysis may help inform mitigation efforts to slow the rate of glacial melt by identifying regions that make the largest contributions to BC deposition in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau.

Final-revised paper