Soot-covered Birds from Last Century Unveil Air Pollution, Black Carbon History of U.S.

Published Date : Oct 10, 2017

U.S. researchers have been convinced to revise their findings and records about air pollution in the country after tracing the amount of soot trapped in the feathers of songbirds over the past century. The researchers have measured the volume of black carbon found on about a 1,300 sparrows, woodpeckers, and larks during the course of the past 100 years. The study has been expected to improve the understanding about historic climate change. The authors of the study have provided a comprehensive picture of the historic air quality in industrial U.S. till date.

The researchers have searched thoroughly through natural history collections in museums located within the manufacturing belt, around Pittsburg, Detroit, and Chicago. The new study has exactly estimated the amount of soot on each bird with the help of photography and the measurement of the volume of light reflected off them.

Study Published in PNAS to Expand in U.K. with Longer History of Industry and Natural History Collection

The analysis of more than a 1,000 birds presented in the study has shown that the U.S. air became worse than thought earlier and that black carbon levels reached their peak in the first decade of the 1900s. It has been anticipated that study improved the air pollution timeline across industrial U.S. However, the other face of the study has indicated that atmospheric black carbon levels in the early industrial era have been underestimated by the present emissions inventories.

A big implication and finding of this study has been the recovery of atmospheric black carbon’s relative concentrations found to be higher than estimated earlier using other methods, according to Shane DuBay, associated with the Field Museum and the University of Chicago. Furthermore, the study helps inform and constrain the approach of understanding black carbon’s relative role in past climate, which could aid to model future climate scenarios more accurately.