Sure enough, there’s a colorful “black” carbon that’s got so many colors.

Carbon is the most common element in our daily lives, and is found in almost all living organisms, helping to form numerous compounds and is often referred to as the “King of Elements”. Most people think that carbon is black, and some people even use the term “carbon black” to describe a dull black. But in fact, carbon has other colors, including “blue carbon” and “brown carbon”.

What is blue carbon?

Before we dive into blue carbon, we need to know something about mangroves. Mangroves usually grow near oxygen-deprived soil, where water flows slowly, causing sediment to accumulate. Mangroves can be identified by the roots that they wrap around, which make trees look like they’re standing on stilts. This unique root structure helps mangrove vegetation cope with rising and falling tides.

So, what does mangroves have to do with blue carbon? This is because mangroves absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and photosynthesis produces blue carbon. These carbons are stored near the roots of this vegetation and are affected by saline and oxygen-deprived environments, and blue carbon is virtually unable to re-engage in the carbon cycle.

Blue carbon can also be produced by phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are microbes that exist in the world’s oceans, using carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and producing blue carbon as a by-product. When these phytoplankton die, blue carbon accumulates near the sea floor. Because of the lack of oxygen on the seafloor, carbon is permanently trapped there, which is where the ocean acts as a “carbon sink”.

What is black carbon?

Black carbon is produced by incomplete combustion of petroleum products, such as tar, and the combustion of vegetable oil and the incomplete combustion of biomass also form black carbon. Black carbon is the main component of soot, which is emitted from gasoline and diesel engines. More recently, black carbon has also become an important contributor to global climate change.

When black carbon is present in the atmosphere, it has the ability to absorb 23% of solar radiation and reflect the rest. By contrast, naturally occurring carbon in the atmosphere absorbs only 3% of solar radiation. As a result, black carbon has a significant impact on global warming and can interfere with cloud formation and standard rainfall patterns.

Burning biomass produces black or lignite

What is lignite?

When Asian brown clouds were identified as one of the potential warming factors, the idea of brown carbon caught the world’s attention. Brown carbon is emitted by burning biomass.

In rural areas of Asia, particularly in the Indian subcontinent, the burning of cooking fuels causes brown carbon to be produced in the atmosphere. The brown carbon gathers in space about 3 to 5 kilometers from the atmosphere, forming brown clouds.

Brown carbon mainly absorbs blue rays from the spectrum. It scatters sunlight, thereby reducing the evaporation of water. As a result, rainfall patterns are disrupted and crops are affected. The pale color of the Taj Mahal, in addition to acid rain, is said to be caused by the presence of too much lignite in the Atmosphere of Agra.

However, scientists later found that the naming of Asian brown clouds was somewhat incorrect, as the problem of brown carbon was not confined to the Indian Ocean. The hazy clouds over South Asia are also beginning to cover other continents, and are widespread around the world, NASA claims.

The Taj Mahal Behind the Haze

In summary, we can confirm that carbon has many different colors. Most of these different colors of carbon pose a major threat to our global environment, as they exacerbate the adverse effects of climate change.

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