Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Broken glass yields clues to climate change

28.12.2010
Clues to future climate may be found in the way that an ordinary drinking glass shatters.

A study appearing this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that microscopic particles of dust, emitted into the atmosphere when dirt breaks apart, follow similar fragment patterns to broken glass and other brittle objects. The research, by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Jasper Kok, suggests there are several times more dust particles in the atmosphere than previously thought, since shattered dirt appears to produce an unexpectedly high number of large dust fragments.

The finding has implications for understanding future climate change because dust plays a significant role in controlling the amount of solar energy in the atmosphere. Depending on their size and other characteristics, some dust particles reflect solar energy and cool the planet, while others trap energy as heat.

“As small as they are, conglomerates of dust particles in soils behave the same way on impact as a glass dropped on a kitchen floor,” Kok says. “Knowing this pattern can help us put together a clearer picture of what our future climate will look like.”

The study may also improve the accuracy of weather forecasting, especially in dust-prone regions. Dust particles affect clouds and precipitation, as well as temperatures.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, which sponsors NCAR.

Shattered soil
Kok’s research focused on a type of airborne particle known as mineral dust. These particles are usually emitted when grains of sand are blown into soil, shattering dirt and sending fragments into the air. The fragments can be as large as about 50 microns in diameter, or about the thickness of a fine strand of human hair.

The smallest particles, which are classified as clay and are as tiny as 2 microns in diameter, remain in the atmosphere for about a week, circling much of the globe and exerting a cooling influence by reflecting heat from the Sun back into space. Larger particles, classified as silt, fall out of the atmosphere after a few days. The larger the particle, the more it will tend to have a heating effect on the atmosphere.

Kok’s research indicates that the ratio of silt particles to clay particles is two to eight times greater than represented in climate models.

Since climate scientists carefully calibrate the models to simulate the actual number of clay particles in the atmosphere, the paper suggests that models most likely err when it comes to the number of silt particles. Most of these larger particles swirl in the atmosphere within about 1,000 miles of desert regions, so adjusting their quantity in computer models should generate better projections of future climate in desert regions, such as the southwestern United States and northern Africa.

Additional research will be needed to determine whether future temperatures in those regions will increase more or less than currently indicated by computer models.

The study results also suggest that marine ecosystems, which draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, may receive substantially more iron from airborne particles than previously estimated. The iron enhances biological activity, benefiting ocean food chains, including plants that take up carbon during photosynthesis.

In addition to influencing the amount of solar heat in the atmosphere, dust particles also get deposited on mountain snowpacks, where they absorb heat and accelerate melt.

Glass and dust: Common fracture patterns
Physicists have long known that certain brittle objects, such as glass or rocks, and even atomic nuclei, fracture in predictable patterns. The resulting fragments follow a certain range of sizes, with a predictable distribution of small, medium, and large pieces. Scientists refer to this type of pattern as scale invariance or self-similarity.

Physicists have devised mathematical formulas for the process by which cracks propagate in predictable ways as a brittle object breaks. Kok theorized that it would be possible to use these formulas to estimate the range of dust particle sizes. He turned to a 1983 study by Guillaume d’Almeida and Lothar Schüth from the Institute for Meteorology at the University of Mainz in Germany that measured the particle size distribution of arid soil.

By applying the formulas for fracture patterns of brittle objects to the soil measurements, Kok determined the size distribution of emitted dust particles. To his surprise, the formulas described measurements of dust particle sizes almost exactly.

“The idea that all these objects shatter in the same way is a beautiful thing, actually,” Kok says. “It’s nature’s way of creating order in chaos.”

About the article
Title: “A scaling theory for the size distribution of emitted dust aerosols suggests that climate models underestimate the size of the global dust cycle”

Author: Jasper Kok

Publication: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Rachael Drummond | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucar.edu
http://www2.ucar.edu/news/3510/broken-glass-yields-clues-climate-change

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>