Dirty bird carcasses tell the story of how air pollution has improved in the last 100 years

What soot-covered, hundred-year-old birds can tell us about saving the environment

Museum collections track soot in the atmosphere throughout the 20th century

From the FIELD MUSEUM

Horned Larks are cute little songbirds with white bellies and yellow chins–at least, now they are. A hundred years ago, at the height of urban smoke pollution in the US, their pale feathers were stained dark gray by the soot in the atmosphere. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the discoloration of birds in museum collections can be used to trace the amount of black carbon in the air over time and the effects of environmental policy upon pollution.

“The soot on these birds’ feathers allowed us to trace the amount of black carbon in the air over time, and we found that the air at the turn of the century was even more polluted than scientists previously thought,” says Shane DuBay, a graduate student at The Field Museum and the University of Chicago and one of the authors of the study. He and co-author Carl Fuldner, also a graduate student at UChicago, analyzed over a thousand birds collected over the last 135 years to determine and quantify the effects of soot in the air over cities in the Rust Belt.

“If you look at Chicago today, the skies are blue. But when you look at pictures of Beijing and Dehli, you get a sense for what US cities like Chicago and Pittsburgh were once like,” says DuBay. “Using museum collections, we were able to reconstruct that history.”

Horned Larks from The Field Museum’s collections, with gray birds from the turn of the century and cleaner birds from more recent years when there was less soot in the atmosphere. CREDIT (c) Carl Fuldner and Shane DuBay, The University of Chicago and The Field Museum

Ornithologists at The Field Museum have long known that bird specimens in the collection from the early 1900s were visibly darker than expected, and atmospheric soot was the suspect.

“When you touch these birds, you get traces of soot on your hands. We’d wear white gloves while handling them, and the gloves would come away stained, like when you get ink on your fingertips reading a newspaper,” says DuBay. That’s because the soot in the air clung to the birds’ feathers like dust to a feather duster. “These birds were acting as air filters moving through the environment,” adds DuBay.

Birds were also ideal candidates for the study because they molt and grow a new set of feathers every year, meaning that the soot on them had only been accumulating for the past year when they were collected. And there was an apparent trend: old birds were dirtier, and new birds were cleaner.

To measure the changes in sootiness over the years, DuBay and Fuldner turned to a novel approach: photographing the birds and measuring the light reflected off of them. Fuldner, a photo historian who focuses on images of the environment, worked with DuBay to develop a method for analyzing the birds using photography. The birds photographed, numbering over a thousand, were all from five species that breed in the Manufacturing Belt and have lots of white feathers that showed off the soot.

The images, depicting the contrast between the soiled gray birds and the clean white ones, are dramatic. “The photographs give the project a visceral dimension–you make a connection to the images,” says Fuldner.

DuBay and Fuldner plotted the amount of light bouncing off the birds’ feathers according to the year the birds were collected. To make sense of their findings, the pair of researchers then delved into the social history of urban air pollution.

“The changes in the birds reflect efforts, first at the city level but eventually growing into a national movement, to address the smoke problem,” says Fuldner. “We are actually able to go back and see how effective certain policy approaches were.”

“We were surprised by the precision we were able to achieve,” says DuBay. “The soot on the birds closely tracks the use of coal over time. During the Great Depression, there’s a sharp drop in black carbon on the birds because coal consumption dropped — once we saw that, it clicked.”

The amount of soot on the birds rebounded around World War II, when wartime manufacturing drove up coal use, and dropped off quickly after the war, around when people in the Rust Belt began heating their homes with natural gas piped in from the West rather than with coal.

“The fact that the more recent birds are cleaner doesn’t mean we’re in the clear,” DuBay notes. “While the US releases far less black carbon into the atmosphere than we used to, we continue to pump less-conspicuous pollutants into our atmosphere — those pollutants just aren’t as visible as soot. Plus, many people around the world still experience soot-choked air in their cities.”

Analysis of atmospheric black carbon might assist scientists studying climate change. “We know black carbon is a powerful agent of climate change, and at the turn of the century, black carbon levels were worse than previously thought,” says DuBay. “I hope that these results will help climate and atmospheric scientists better understand the effects of black carbon on climate.”

And for both DuBay and Fuldner, being able to apply their research beyond their respective fields of evolutionary biology and photographic history was both unexpected and rewarding.

“As a historian, one of the questions I always ask is, ‘What is the point of this research to the way we live now?’ In this case the answer quickly became clear,” says Fuldner. “Filling in a blank space in the historical record of something as large as air pollution in American cities, and being able to share that with atmospheric scientists who study the effects of black carbon on the climate, is extraordinary.”

“This study shows a tipping point when we moved away from burning dirty coal, and today, we’re at a similar pivotal moment with fossil fuels,” says DuBay. “In the middle of the 20th century, we made an investment in infrastructure and regulated fuel sources–hopefully, we can take that lesson and make a similar transition now to more sustainable, renewable energy sources that are more efficient and less harmful to our environment.”

DuBay notes that in addition to the environmental implications of the project, their work also shows the importance of museum collections like those they used from The Field Museum in Chicago, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, and the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology in Ann Arbor. “I hope this study exposes collections as a valuable resource to address present day environmental concerns,” says DuBay. “This paper shows the ways that natural history collections can be used, underlining the value in collections and in continuing to build collections, to help us improve our understanding of human impacts on the natural world.”

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134 thoughts on “Dirty bird carcasses tell the story of how air pollution has improved in the last 100 years

      • Smaller power stations were located in urban areas.

        London has 2 old power stations right in its centre you can still see today – one which is now the Tate Gallery and another is Battersea Power station, familiar to Pink floyd fans.

        These contributed to the infamous London fogs of the 1950s

      • Greg. Doesn’t matter whether the current power gen is coming from “ditry coal” or “dirty coal” the point is that in the early 1900s the exhaust from the coal fired generators went straight up the chimney. This meant that it contained a fair amount of unburnt coal dust plus a fair amount of soot, plus, if the coal contained sulphur, plenty of sulphur dioxide, plus other noxious products. By the 1950s, this had been recognized as ‘pollution’ and so just about every power station installed scrubbers. Filters got rid of the solid particulates, and dry or wet scrubbers (see the Wikipaedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrubber) got rid of the sulphur dioxide, mercury and other noxious stuff. As a result the exhaust at the top of the chimney was nitrogen, carbon dioxide, argon, trace gases and water vapour. If the scrubber was a ‘wet’ scrubber, likely the water content was around dewpoint in the still warm exhaust, so in the cool atmosphere it rapidly condensed, leading to the white plume seen from some power station chimneys. This meant that although there was still a large amount of coal being burnt (50% of today’s fuel is probably well more than 100% of 1900’s fuel) today’s exhaust is clean. So the birds are now white, no soot to darken them.

        As an aside, the white stuff coming from the top of those beautifully shaped fat towers so beloved of alarmists is just water vapour, this coming from the cooling water used to cool the steam after passing through the turbines, to get the back pressure to a near vacuum. Very good for the environment.

        Also, note that US railways converted from coal to fuel oil to power their locos. Another reason that the air, and hence the feathers, is less black. Though housewives in Middlesbrough back pedalled when they realised that after the local railway had converted from coal to diesel, their washing was now contaminated with unburnt diesel fuel and fumes, more difficult to wash out than the soot from the steam locos.

        Carbon emissions are ‘dirty’. Carbon dioxide emissions are clean and good for the environment.

      • Coal is dirty but smoke from chimneys is clean-that is called development.
        Clean air act is implemented.
        China has haze as LA had during the 70s and London during the 50s

      • Griff
        October 12, 2017 at 1:18 am

        Smaller power stations were located in urban areas.

        London has 2 old power stations right in its centre you can still see today – one which is now the Tate Gallery and another is Battersea Power station, familiar to Pink floyd fans.

        These contributed to the infamous London fogs of the 1950s

        The power stations you mentioned could never be construed as “smaller” power stations.
        When I was a kid growing up in London in the early fifties everybody had a coal fire burning in the winter evenings. Every chimney was smoking, this is what caused the local pollution. Central power stations contributed, but their smoke went much higher and did not cause the same amount of local smog. Switching to smokeless fuel cut the smog enormously,

        SteveT

      • Ivankinsman, the EPA wandered off into environmental advocacy without scientific basis under the Obama Administration. The EPA solicited talkling points from environmental groups (think far left) to construct a negative finding against the Pebble copper-gold deposit in Alaska. Have you ever been there? I have and a more desolate and Giardia-infested area is hard to imagine. Scott Pruitt has fought against environmental activism during his term as Attorney General for Oklahoma and now is cleaning up the EPA. Dick for brains? Is that the best you’ve got?

      • The use of scrubbers captures most of these sub-micron spheres as well as the larger fly ash. The down side of scrubbers is what we have been doing with all that contaminated fly ash that has caused water pollution problems. It would be interesting to see their data for New York City and Birmingham. New York changed from coal to oil around 1970. Birmingham cleaned up it’s atmosphere by shutting down it’s steel mills and coke ovens.

      • Can’t seem to directly reply to Griff’s comment below but he is misleading about power stations in central London. The biggest reason for soot in London and many cities around the world was individual houses burning coal to heat their homes. When coal burning was banned and smokeless fuels encouraged, then the soot disappeared or was much reduced.

        When I first arrived in London in the early 90s, summer sunny days had white skies…never blue….now they are nearly always blue. This is a clear sign of the progress made in air pollution and this in addition to major reductions in car emissions. My 2016 diesel car emits just 3% of original diesel engines.

      • Sorry PB but I have to ask, Is your auto a VW by chance?
        Theirs were programmed to run and emit differently during inspections than they do while actually driving.

      • I love it when trolls indicate that the only thing they have is fear and hatred.
        Air pollution was a problem. Therefore Obama’s 3 year old clean air plan is necessary.
        Never let it be said that a troll can think for itself.

      • Ron, the EPA has been doing “environmental advocacy without scientific basis environmental advocacy without scientific basis” for decades.
        It got worse with Obama, but it didn’t start there.

      • Pssst….Because they are being exposed to “invisible dirt”. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Same with the “hidden heat” in the oceans. I mean, carbon is carbon, no matter what form it’s in, right?

      • SteveT – they are smaller than the likes of (e.g) Drax (before conversion to pointless biomass)!

        and temp inversion trapped their output, even from the higher stacks.

      • Amazingly, [pruned] Ivan, does not seem to have any idea what Obama’s “Clean power plan” is about and seems to think it is the same thing as the Clean Air Plan. The latter gave us clean dickey birds, Obama’s CPP is about reducing “dirty” CO2 , a colour-less invisible gas. Repealing this will not affect air quality or make dickey birds go black again.

        Just look at the lying photo that the Economist uses to headline that article he links to:

        A classic stopped-down, low angle, sunset shot of water vapour made to look “dirty” and polluting by photographic trickery.
        [pruned] Ivan was obviously taken in by this or is hypocritical enough to pretend not to notice.

        [Cut the language, the name-calling. .mod]

      • As someone else mentioned, it wasn’t even power generation that was the problem, even though the power plants at the time didn’t filter particulates in their exhaust. The problem was with households burning coal and wood for heat and cooking.

      • “These contributed to the infamous London fogs of the 1950s”

        The thing that contributed to the smogs of the period before the Clean Air Acts took effect was not the power stations that invariably burned high quality Steam coal but the myriad Lancashire boilers that drove the whole of industry not only in London but in the Northern industrial cities via lineshafts and flatbelts – some factories could have fifty or more – that burned much lower quality coal.
        The household fireplaces that burned high sulphur bituminous coal made a massive contribution too.

        I remember washing day in Northern cities where the clothes could not be put out to dry if the wind was in the wrong direction due to the black rain that on a bad day could even burn holes in the sheets.
        I witnessed the last great smog in Manchester in winter 1965, you literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, and standing under an orange street lamp was like standing in orangey-brown soup.
        A walk that usually took me around ten minutes to quarter of an hour via back streets and along the canal towpath took me nearly two hours.

        It wasn’t just in the cities, the countryside was black too, on holiday to Scotland in the mid-1950s I was surprised to find that sheep were actually white, not a nasty dark grey colour.
        Then the big power stations like Drax appeared along with North Sea oil and especially gas, the Lancashire boilers were replaced with electric motors and household heating went over to smokeless fuel and gas efficient gas heaters.

        In a few years the sheep had reverted to their natural colour, many of the buildings had been sandblasted back to clean stone and now it is impossible to tell it had ever happened.

        Curious thing is, all the generations that grew up through the decades before the Clean Air Acts when the air was far filthier than it is today are now the very ones whose longevity is placing such a burden on the NHS and care services…

    • Black carbon is a IPCC recognized cause of global warming.
      And its a large contributor

      The interesting this is what will happen to revised historical estimates of black carbon..

      you know… early in the century

      • Just another wild guess by the IPCC.

        In truth, we simply do not know whether black carbon produces a net warming, a net cooling, or is neutral. The data was never collected at the time, so one cannot even begin to assess the situation from a scientific perspective. But hey, real science is not something high on the agenda of the IPCC, or for that matter B€ST.

        I see that you are hinting at another excuse to massage the data to fit a meme.

      • SM Certainly the raw temperatures from back then had to be too cold. With adjustments, that would make the 1940s even warmer, as Tony Heller has shown. BTW, TH has implied that BEST is a crock. Why don’t you with your programming skills go and take his code and show him his mistakes? Your absence on his blog is being missed.

      • The BEST process is broken from first principles. Slicing temperature records into short segments is a low cut filter and destroyed low frequency signal content. No amount of homogenization of high frequency content can restore low frequency content.

        Their code is irrelevant as it only messages the noise left anterior the original sin of the scalpel.

      • Mr Mosher,
        I was always under the impression that while black carbon exacerbated arctic melting, if airborne it actually blocked the sun and caused global cooling.
        Wouldn’t this make the cleaner air since 1950 a major contributor to increased irradiance and thereby increasing temperatures?

      • Actually scrubbers do not do a very effective job on sub-micron particles. The particles have to be changed fr scrubbers to capture them. Makes it more complex.

      • “Black carbon is a IPCC recognized cause of global warming.”

        Where specifically does it say that, and what exactly does it say?

      • “SM Certainly the raw temperatures from back then had to be too cold. With adjustments, that would make the 1940s even warmer, as Tony Heller has shown. BTW, TH has implied that BEST is a crock. Why don’t you with your programming skills go and take his code and show him his mistakes? Your absence on his blog is being missed.”

        1. TH uses the smallest dataset he can find to support his views.
        2. BEST was formed to use ALL THE DATA, specifically Anthony and others ( em smith, Joe D Aleo )
        complained about USHCN because of the drop off in data. So we dediced to use ALL THE DATA
        Skeptics idea, Not our idea.
        3. In the raw data the total record is WARMER adjustments cool the record they dont warm it.
        4. I spent way too much time with his old code, could not find a single line supporting any of the graphs
        he produces. Plus, he is using a TINY subset of data to cherry pick his results. There are 19000
        Stations in the US he ignores and 42000 stations in the rest of the world he ignores

      • ““Black carbon is a IPCC recognized cause of global warming.”

        Where specifically does it say that, and what exactly does it say?”

        RTFM
        look at Ar5. BC or black carbon
        Now Im your librarian?

        here is an example chart of ALL THE FORCINGS

        the AGW theory is simple

        Imagine you have a bank account with deposits and debits.

        the deposits are positive forcings
        the debits are negative

        IF the sum of all deposits is greater than the sum of all debts….. You will warm

        if the deposit from the sun goes up… and everything else stays equal……
        The planet warms.

        IF black carbon goes up, and everything else stays equal, the planet warms

        IF C02 goes UP, and other forcings go Down, it can cool.

        Here A graphic from hansen showing you the deposits and debts

        NOW, you see why its foolish to argue that we think its all c02

        its not all co2

        C02 is A control knob, not THE control knob

        C02 can go up, and the temperature can go down! because you have to look at the total balance.

      • “Mr Mosher,
        I was always under the impression that while black carbon exacerbated arctic melting, if airborne it actually blocked the sun and caused global cooling.
        Wouldn’t this make the cleaner air since 1950 a major contributor to increased irradiance and thereby increasing temperatures?”

        It depends on its age, size, and location in the atmosphere.

        Net net, it is a positive forcing.

        That is why some luke warmers call for action on Black carbon.

        1. Soot is generally bad for you health not good for your health.
        2. Fighting BC is easier than controlling c02, and actually has economic benefits

      • “The BEST process is broken from first principles. Slicing temperature records into short segments is a low cut filter and destroyed low frequency signal content. No amount of homogenization of high frequency content can restore low frequency content.”

        There is no low frequency content…
        IF a station CHANGES IT POSITION, it is no longer the SAME STATION
        any “low frequency content is SPURIOUS.
        IF a station changes its sensor, it is no longer the same station. any low frequcny
        content is SPURIOUS.

        Imagine this. you have a station on a mountain top for 30 years’
        you move it to the base of the mountain for 30 years.

        You decide NOT to change the station name

        this station is recoded as ONE STATION

        You find a low frequency ‘signal” in this “record”

        the signal is bogus because you actually have TWO DIFFERENT STATIONS!

        One measure the temperature at 5000 feet, the other measure temperature at a different location

        Only a Fraud would join these two records and look for “low frequency” content.

      • “Net net, it is a positive forcing.” (theoretical, stated as fact)

        Net net, it is modeled as a positive forcing. (honest statement)

      • I normally ignore Mosher’s comments here,but he is making statements that are false or misleading:

        SM writes,

        “1. TH uses the smallest dataset he can find to support his views.”

        Misleading since he is using NOAA official data sets,which are being updated daily. They match up very well with ClimDiv,

        Nick Stokes endorses the same chart, TH used,

        https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/10/04/quote-of-the-week-anonymous-cowards-please-take-note/comment-page-1/#comment-2628029

        ======

        SM writes,

        “2. BEST was formed to use ALL THE DATA, specifically Anthony and others ( em smith, Joe D Aleo )
        complained about USHCN because of the drop off in data. So we dediced to use ALL THE DATA
        Skeptics idea, Not our idea.”

        Misleading again.

        The NOAA says about USHCN:

        “U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN)

        The U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) data are used to quantify national- and regional-scale temperature changes in the contiguous United States (CONUS). The USHCN is a designated subset of the NOAA Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) Network with sites selected according to their spatial coverage, record length, data completeness, and historical stability.”

        https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/land-based-station-data/land-based-datasets/us-historical-climatology-network-ushcn

        It was ALWAYS a small data set,but one that specifically selected that has been refined over the years with newer versions,

        “The first development of USHCN datasets were at NOAA’s NCEI in collaboration with the Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) in a project that dates to the mid-1980s (Quinlan et al. 1987). At that time, in response to the need for an accurate, unbiased, modern historical climate record for the United States, personnel at the Global Change Research Program of the U.S. Department of Energy and at NCEI defined a network of 1219 stations in the contiguous United States whose observation would comprise a key baseline dataset for monitoring U.S. climate. Since then, the U S HCN dataset has been revised several times (e.g., Karl et al., 1990; Easterling et al., 1996; Menne et al. 2009). The three dataset releases described in Quinlan et al. 1987, Karl et al., 1990 and Easterling et al., 1996 are now referred to as the USHCN version 1 datasets.”

        https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/ushcn/introduction

        Steve, you who should know better,seems to be deliberately misleading people here with false claims. I have used the NOAA against you so far,which you amazingly seem unaware exist.

        ======

        SM writes,

        “3. In the raw data the total record is WARMER adjustments cool the record they dont warm it.”

        No evidence presented from you,I don’t think it is true anyway, seen too many examples of the very opposite elsewhere.

        ======

        SM writes,

        “4. I spent way too much time with his old code, could not find a single line supporting any of the graphs.”

        A flat out LIE,since you never showed that you did this,you were also INVITED to prove Tony Heller wrong.

        Here is the blog post Tony made,inviting you to back up your big mouth:

        You had said here on WUWT,

        “Steven Mosher
        July 7, 2017 at 4:05 pm Edit

        Heller is wrong and misleading in every single chart he produces.
        Further he never produces work that can be reproduced.
        He FAILS the Mcintyre test.
        as does you work.”

        Tony responded, by making his blog post,just for you to back up your claim:

        The Steven Mosher Challenge

        “Top climate fraudster Steven Mosher claims that none of my graphs are reproducible. I have generated tens of thousands of graphs, so it should be a no-brainer for him to come up with a huge set of graphs which prove his point.

        If he can’t do that, then his end of the challenge will be to stop committing climate fraud, deceiving the public, and lying about me. Are you up for it Steven?

        I provide all of my source code, so anyone can reproduce my work. I have made graphing errors from time to time, but always correct them when I become aware of the issue.

        Addendum : I’m going to make it easy for him. Here is one of my more popular graphs.

        (Chart)

        Source code is here.

        Here are the instructions, which will work on Linux, Mac, or a Windows system with Cygwin. Download the link above, GHCN.tgz

        tar xzvf GHCN.tgz
        cd release
        make
        chmod 755 get
        ./get
        cd ghcnd_hcn
        ./ghcn.exe US.txt threshf=90 > US_90F.csv

        Here is the Excel file. Everyone should be able to reproduce it, and demonstrate conclusively that Mosher is a fraud.”

        https://realclimatescience.com/2017/07/the-steven-mosher-challenge/

        Steve Mosher,never responded,despite being told about it in the same thread he tried to suckerpunch Tony.

        Me and Tony left links to the Mosher Challenge,which you never responded to.

        https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/07/07/comments-on-the-new-rss-lower-tropospheric-temperature-dataset/comment-page-1/#comment-2546484

        It appears that you LIED!

        =======

        You continued with this overtly dishonest claim,since USHCN was ALWAYS a small data set to begin with,which NOAA updated to this day.

        SM writes,

        “Plus, he is using a TINY subset of data to cherry pick his results. There are 19000
        Stations in the US he ignores and 42000 stations in the rest of the world he ignores”

        It is NOT a subset of data,it has its own data base,with FTP file with DAILY updates as shown here:

        ftp://ftp.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/ushcn/v2.5/

        Here is the current chart using THREE separate datasets:

        https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/temp-and-precip/national-temperature-index/time-series

        See how well they run together?

        You are really bad at this Steve.

      • “BEST was formed to use ALL THE DATA”

        Yep,, and nearly all of it being TOTAL JUNK.

        The more GARBAGE you put into your mix, the closer you get to Mosh’s BEST !!

        Garbage IN..

        compress, shred, extrude mold to expectation..

        …. .. Even more GARBAGE out.

      • Given what Mosher has said, if he does not commit to Tony’s challenge then his credibility to comment on Tony’s work is utterly worthless.

      • What B€ST has done could form the subject of an entire Article, but the material point in all of this is that if one wishes to know whether temperature has changed over time, one needs to make a like for like pin point comparison, ie., compare actual station data with its own actual data, and not seek to produce some artificial construction of global trends or hemispherical trends.

        As soon as there is a change in the sample set (and the composition of this sample set probably changes yearly), no meaningful comparison can be made. As i have posted numerous times, the station data that was used to form the 1880 temperature anomaly is not precisely the same stations used to form the 1900 anomaly, which in turn is not precisely the same stations used to form the 1920 anomaly, which in turn is not precisely the same stations used to form the 1940 anomaly, and so forth such that in turn it is not precisely the same stations used to form the 2016 anomaly.

        We simply do not know whether it is warmer today than it was in say 1940, or even for that matter in 1880, because we are not comparing actual temperature measurements from the same very stations with one another.

        According to:http://bubbaspossumranch.blogspot.com.es/2017/07/2016-was-hottest-year-evah-or-was-it.html

        In 1951 there were 576 stations which came on line. Of those stations 211 maintained continuous, reasonably consistent measurements for 50 years. The graph below is the result of those 50 years of measurements from those stations.

        This is a drastically different result from that of the complete data set. Instead of a pronounced warming trend as in the complete data set, we see a slight cooling trend of less than .25° C. Essentially this is no change as the year to year variability is many times greater than the total projected change.

        The conclusion from this study is no evidence of any warming. None.

        You can replicate my data for this time period or for any time period within the data set. As long as you follow the guidelines for a proper time based study of temperature trends, namely you can only use data from stations reporting for the entire time period being studied, you will get similar results. No warming, slight warming, or slight cooling. What you will not find is any warming trend even remotely resembling the chart put forth by Berkeley Earth. That is fact (my emphasis)

        .

        This gentleman went through B€ST data and noted:

        Going through their data I identified exactly 3 stations with continuous records from 1900 to 2010 with no location changes and no obvious bad data. These stations are in Russia, Switzerland, and the US. They all show exactly the same thing which is a warming trend from about 1900 to the 1930’s and 40’s, a cooling trend into the 70’s, and another warming trend into the 90’s. The two warming trends are about the same magnitude and about the same length. The higher temperatures occurred within ± 5 years of 1940.

        No doubt, SM can check this out for us, and revert in detail listing all stations that have extant records from 1951 to date, and show us what these stations show on unadjusted RAW data.

        Finally do not be swayed by SM’s comment that TH only uses a few stations. SM once said that 50 stations would be sufficient to establish any trend, and TH uses either the entire number of stations making up the USHCN record, alternatively (recently) just the 747 stations that have continuous records these past 100 years. that is plenty of station data.;

      • Fortunately, there are a few people endeavouring to do real science.

        As i have been frequently stating for a long time it is necessary to make actual like for like comparisons and this means to compare single point locations with the same single point locations, ie., compare stations directly between themselves and no against some artificial construct of global mean or hemispherical mean with infilling and kriging etc
        .
        This is what happens when one compares stations 9with continuous records0 directly against themselves:

        Out of 3127 stations in the record only 2 contain a complete record from 1880 to 2004. Only 5 were continuously reporting from 1950 to 2004. That includes the original 2 by the way. There were only 44 stations reporting from 1980 to 2004. There were 380 stations reporting from 2000 to 2004. Yet, in 2004 there were 805 stations reporting.

        So it appears the only usable data in the entire 120 MB’s of original data is that from just two stations. The rest of it is too fragmentary, incomplete, or just does not cover enough time to be useful. Just two stations, one in Russia and one in Switzerland,

        Just consider the garbage that one is working with. It beggars all belief that any true and genuine scientist could claim certainty with respect to warming and its trend based upon data of such hopeless quality. But there is simply no quality control in Climate science, as the recent BOM scandal reveals.

        Of particular interest

        is a graph showing the high and low annual averages for each year from 1900 to 2004. You will notice only the lowest reading vary, and they vary hugely. You are looking at temperatures in the -55° C (-67° F) range. That would be Antarctica. You are seeing the effects of 12 stations running from 1953 to 1994 for periods ranging from 42 years to 1 year. Do you think having 2, 3 or 12 annual averages at such an extreme might have some noticeable affect on the “global average”? This is an extreme example of how ridiculous this entire business truly is.

        All of this wa4rrants a separate dedicated Article. See more generally: http://bubbaspossumranch.blogspot.com.es/2017/07/berkeley-earth-super-duper-exposed.html

        I look forward to hearing Mr Moshers and/or Mr Stoke’s views and comments.

      • Roger Knights-

        “6.4.2. Direct Radiative Forcing from Black Carbon Aerosols

        Tropospheric black carbon (BC) aerosol, also described as soot, primarily absorbs incident solar radiation, which leads to positive radiative forcing.”

    • ““This study shows a tipping point when we moved away from burning dirty coal, and today, we’re at a similar pivotal moment with fossil fuels,” says DuBay.”

      However, all that soot had no effect on climate as the temperature fluctuated according to known cycles back then.

      Also, simply emitting less soot and having cleaner air (and birds) is NOT a tipping point. Even though “tipping points” in climate do not exist (or we would already have tipped), it is sad to see the term thrown around regarding simple trends.

    • Commercial coal mining began in the US in Virginia in 1740 and spread across the US in the 1800’s.

      The Great Depression started in 1929 and lasted until 1939. The NASA temperature data shows WARMING from 1929-1930. (Which matches the bird soot decrease)

      World War 2 started in 1939 and ended in 1945. James Hansen’s NASA charts show COOLING from 1939 to 1945. (Which matches the bird soot increase)

      Particulates in the air cause cooling. Scientific fact.
      WHAT IF-
      The Little Ice age was caused by, or made worse, by the increase of particulates in the air as European cities sprang up ?

      The LIA was a natural event, and as temps started warming back up when it ended…human coal production/use was ramping up and we actually SLOWED DOWN the warming by injecting massive amounts of particulates into the atmosphere?

      Burl’s theory (he wasn’t the first to have it, or publish on the aerosol theory) that the planet is getting warmer because the atmosphere is cleaner DOES have merit. I’m NOT convinced that localized SO2 gas increases alone could cause global changes, but we know particulates and aerosols do (Which SO2 gas turns into when combined with water vapor).

      Then HUMANS would be responsible for keeping the Earth COOLER than it would have been, by putting soot into the atmosphere. And as our coal consumption has dropped, our temps have risen.

      The WARMISTS are cooking the planet!! The Evidence from studies like this PROVE that the environmentalists must be stopped!!:)

      • And THANK the GOD James Hansen for “correcting” the historical temperature charts to reflect just how COOL that soot DID make the planet!! It makes an even MORE convincing case now because it correlates nearly PERFECTLY with particulates being the driver of recent climate changes than CO2 increases EVER did!!

        Thank you James Hansen, Gavin Schmidt and others like you. The truth shall set us free!! Bring back the Coal industry before we get too hot!!!

  1. And soot and other similar pollutants cool the atmosphere – and when you suddenly in the 1970s (during global cooling scare) bring in legislation to stop emitting these global coolers … you get … 20 guesses for an alarmist … one for a sceptic.

  2. “This study shows a tipping point when we moved away from burning dirty coal, and today, we’re at a similar pivotal moment with fossil fuels,”

    Now we know that what is meant by a “tipping point” is merely an inflection in the rate of consumption. It is not a point of no return, after all. Can the yelling stop now?

    SR

  3. [QUOTE] …we found that the air at the turn of the century was even more polluted than scientists previously thought,” says Shane DuBay, a graduate student at The Field Museum [/QUOTE]

    It was even worse than we thought!

  4. The Clean Air Act 1956 mostly solved the problem in the UK by banning coal burning in domestic fires. Since then governments have made things worse by encouraging the use of dirty diesel and by telling us it is “green” to burn wood. Why is it that most governments are filled with idiots?

    Today in the UK the government has brought out a whole raft of stupid policies connected to a “clean growth strategy”, which will clearly destroy the economy and make people poorer and thus will cause long term damage to the environment. Greenblob insanity rules in the UK..

    • Phillip,
      You asked, “Why is it that most governments are filled with idiots?” Those that can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach teachers. Those who can’t even teach teachers become politicians.

  5. The Clean Air Act in the UK made a huge and obvious difference. Fast forward to 2017 and the rise in the number of vehicles on the roads and you swap one kind of pollution for another. See this article of October 4th 2017 from the Guardian under the headline “Every area of London breaches global standards for PM2.5 pollution particles, with most areas exceeding levels by at least 50%”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/04/revealed-every-londoner-breathing-dangerous-levels-of-toxic-air-particle

      • Diesel cars are getting cleaner and cleaner.
        EURO6 (2014) has a improvement of 97% on PM (particles) compared to Euro1 (1992)

      • So, there will be no need for the UK town governments to slap on extra cost for diesel car entry..

        But you know that they will ;-)

      • And now they want to ban EVs, since EVs produce just as much, if not more, in the way of harmful particulate matter.

        http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/cars/862624/London-Air-pollution-UK-electric-cars-ban

        It has been known for a long time that EVs produce a lot of particulate pollution because of the weight penalty; on average, size for size, EVs are some 25 to 30% heavier than their equivalent IC engine counterpart. This cause more tyre wear, and brake dust (although progress with regenerative braking has helped reduce the latter) and hence a lot of particulate matter.

      • Richard,
        And the pavement gets worn as well, releasing silicates and asphalt into the air. One can observe that streets with heavy truck traffic usually have more of a pothole problem than suburban streets. Once large pieces are thrown out of the holes, they then get crushed by subsequent traffic.

    • This Guardian article is old news. As I wrote (presciently!) in my post here back in August (https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/08/11/the-social-costs-of-air-pollution-from-cars-in-the-uk/):

      “For PM2.5 the EU (and so UK) limit today is two and a half times the WHO guideline set back in 2006. There will surely be pressure to drive that limit down. But as reported by the London Air Quality Network, in 2015 no sites in London, which could reliably make the measurement, actually met this guideline limit.”

      It’s an example of the greens dishonestly moving the goalposts to make things look worse than they are. Again. To a “limit” which, as far as I can tell, the WHO simply plucked out of thin air back in 2006.

    • David Bennett, everything in the Guardian is wrong, including their insistence that they are not hypocritical tax dodgers. PM2.5 is not ‘toxic’ even US EPA had to admit that after they had spent time trying to poison people with truck exhaust in the hope that it might be.

  6. 100 years of dust? How long carsasses were stored in storages without air conditioning with coal heating? I have seen 70 year old books with dark covers from soath.

  7. As a historian, one of the questions I always ask is, ‘What is the point of this research to the way we live now?’

    The answer is, “Mostly none.”

    History is “just one damned thing after another”. link Some folks (hedgehogs) think they see grand patterns and, on that basis, try to prescribe and predict. Their predictions are no more accurate than those of a blindfolded dart-throwing monkey. link

    A prerequisite for following a prescription is that we know what will happen if we do. Given that experts have a lousy record of being able to predict, we should therefore ignore their prescriptions. Experts pushing solutions to the world’s problems should be jailed. They are a dangerous breed.

    History can teach us lessons like never get involved in a land war in asia but even that can be seen as scholarly hubris.

    • Mostly history is properly followed will show us “what not to do again.”
      By evidence that the human race has not eradicated itself through repeated costly mistakes, I’d say at least we are improving in our learning. We for the most part are somewhat self-correcting.

      There is great truth to the maxim “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.”
      It by no means asserts that we won’t make new mistakes, just the we will make fewer of the same ones over and over again.

      How does a person without memory learn?

      • As far as I can tell, knowing history does little to decrease mistakes. There’s the irrational, but common, belief that “they just didn’t do it right or it would have worked out”. So we do it again, hoping we get a different outcome because we did it right.

        People without memory do not learn much. Look at those with head injuries that damage the short term memory. They remain stuck at the point in time and the knowledge level existing at the time of the head injury. Rather sad.

      • Sheri October 12, 2017 at 3:58 pm

        … So we do it again, hoping we get a different outcome because we did it right.

        Sometimes it actually works. The creeping barrage had been tried by others but the Canadians finally got it right at Vimy Ridge.

        The big problem is our hubris and our lack of respect for our ancestors. We ignore the fact that the ancestors were just as intelligent as we are. We think we are smarter and can do things they couldn’t. A detailed study of history can help dispel that notion.

        The best advice for running a country comes from Laozi (Lao Tse).

        Governing a large country is like frying a small fish.

        It’s really easy to overdo things. Less is better. He who knows what is enough will be forever happy.

  8. What’s missing from this account (may be present in the original paper?) is any reference to where the birds were collected, and whether they were migratory or sedentary species. Soot pollution in the first half of the twentieth century was heavy and relatively widespread, but barely affected vast rural areas in US and most of the rest of the world, so that spatial variation in the contamination should also be visible. If no account has been taken on the origin location of the specimens, that would seriously devalue any conclusions. Museum specimens and even amateur natural history records from the time do indeed provide volumes of useful historical information on these matters.

    Another sensitive example is tracking of the distribution of many species of lichen which are particularly sensitive to airborne pollutions.

    And somebody is bound to mention the famous history of the Peppered Moth – a largish, speckled black and white species that rested on tree trunks on which it was camouflaged against bird predation. It had a rare but recurrent mutation in which the moth was all black in colour. Come the industrial revolution, soot-burdened tree trunks led to a large selective advantage for the black variety, which quickly became the bulk of the population in urban and suburban localities, whereas the typical form still predominated in the most rural areas. Nowadays the typical form has made a comeback into the suburbs and is again the most frequently encountered form. The detailed work on this was done by HBD Kettlewell in a ground-breaking investigation and, although there are suspicions he massaged some of his data and observations, the message itself stands scrutiny, and is taught in biology classes everywhere.

  9. Ivankinsman, I believe that Scott Pruit is repealing the EPA RULING that CO2 was a pollutent. The clean air act passed by congress specifically stated that CO2 as NOT a pollutent. I agree with the clean air act as passed by congress, not Obama’s amended version.
    As someone once, “Elections have consequences.

    • “The clean air act passed by congress specifically stated that CO2 as NOT a pollutent.”

      Are you sure? I thought it said nothing on CO2 specifically.

    • [Quote from article]”The amount of soot on the birds rebounded around World War II, when wartime manufacturing drove up coal use, and dropped off quickly after the war, around when people in the Rust Belt began heating their homes with natural gas piped in from the West rather than with coal.”

      Starting in the 1970’s, the original Clean Air Act required coal-fired power plants to install baghouses to capture ash and particulates, and scrubbers to capture sulfur oxides (responsible for “acid rain” that was loudly lamented by environmentalists of the 1960’s and 1970’s). So, even if the coal-fired power plants continued to run, they emitted much less soot and sulfur oxides than they did previously.

      The article attributes the drop in soot on the birds’ feathers to the switch from coal to natural gas for home heating. Coal burning is a dirty (soot-producing) process, and coal-burning furnaces in homes were not as efficient as commercial coal-fired boilers, and homeowners could not afford soot-control devices (baghouses) that could be efficiently used for large commercial boilers for power plants.

      Natural gas burns much more cleanly than coal, which is why it can be safely used in cooking stoves without a chimney, whereas no one would ever consider an indoor coal-fired stove without a chimney.

      The EPA since the 1970’s has regulated the emission of particulates (soot), sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides, lead, and carbon MONoxide from all commercial establishments using large combustion furnaces, and emission rates of these pollutants have decreased by 50 – 70% while fossil fuel use has nearly tripled. The Clean Air Acts of 1970 and 1990, passed by Congress, has mandated the EPA to regulate these pollutants.

      The Obama Clean Power Rule was an Executive action by former President Obama, with no statutory support from Congress, to impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions. President Trump, via his EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, can undo an Executive action by a previous President as long as it does not violate any statutes previously passed by Congress, and can effectively de-regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

      However, Trump or Pruitt cannot legally remove existing regulations on emissions of particulates, sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides, lead, or carbon MONoxide which are required by statutes passed by Congress, so that laws regulating the emission of these real pollutants will continue to be enforced, and the horned larks will maintain their clean feathers.

  10. Gaia seems to be throwing puzzles at her own faithful. Why would horned larks chose to live in soot polluted urban areas, with plenty of uninhabited countryside around, especially in the US a century ago? The thriving birds in the Chernobyl exclusion zone are another mystifying puzzle https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140424223057.htm

    “We know black carbon is a powerful agent of climate change, and at the turn of the century, black carbon levels were worse than previously thought,” says DuBay

    Really? If so, the past “climate change” must have been even “more powerful” and there is no need to be scared silly now. Right Shane?

    “This study shows a tipping point when we moved away from burning dirty coal, and today, we’re at a similar pivotal moment with fossil fuels,” says DuBay. “In the middle of the 20th century, we made an investment in infrastructure and regulated fuel sources–hopefully, we can take that lesson and make a similar transition now to more sustainable, renewable energy sources that are more efficient and less harmful to our environment.”

    It’s not too late for a graduate student to move away from integrity and objectivity obscuring political activism and refocus e.g. on science in the Field Museum.

    • The countryside may have been relatively uninhabited by people, but it was already inhabited by other birds.
      Birds, like all animals, go where the food is. As long as there is food, there will be something trying to eat it.
      As for Chernobyl, to the best of my knowledge birds have no means for detecting radiation, so why would they be avoiding the area. Beyond that, even in the days immediately following the accident, if you got a few miles away from the reactor, radiation levels weren’t high enough to be harmfull. 30 years later, you have to get right up next to the reactor to have radiation levels to get high enough to worry about.

      • Yep. Quite some puzzles to environmental misanthropes scared even of the building block of life itself. Where I come from inhabitant is associated with human de facto, but then again I’m not claiming to be an English native linguist either.

    • Food sources?
      Urban warmth?
      Lack of natural predators (hawks, kestrels, falcons, etc.)?
      Safe nesting places free from nest robbers?
      Any or all of these are good reasons why a particular animal would choose to inhabit the environment.
      Several species have habituated themselves to this environment, crows and sewer rats quickly leap to mind.

  11. ivankinsman at 1:34 am

    This comment is either an attempt to obfuscate the current review of the CPP or indicative of ignorance of the difference between the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Air Act. The review of the CPP is in regard to regulating carbon dioxide, NOT particulates. The people who are “dick-brained” are those who label carbon dioxide a pollutant.

  12. What rubbish. In addition to their spin and distortion of history, their feeble attempt at connecting the use of fossil fuels, and especially coal to “climate change” are laughable. Only the brainless would buy any of it.

  13. what many people fail to remember is that many, many houses were heated by coal or wood fueled stoves during the early century up to the late 50’s and 60’s. these furnaces were comparatively inefficient compared to even the power plant generators at the time and generated (choose your adjective: much, most, some) of the carbon soot in this study. same in London, remember the chimney sweeps aka dick van dyke. get rid of those, instant clean. my uncle had a coal business delivering to home well into the 70’s. don’t miss the smell, the smoke or the clinkers. todays power generators are light years from those old days.

    • My Dad tells stories of snow turning grey in a couple of days and of having to clean the clinkers out of the heater. He grew up in a small town in Iowa.

  14. Somehow they have to account for birds perching themselves right on a dirty chimney exhaust to stay warm, they could get rather dirty there and their dirtiness may or may not say anything about the air quality in general.

    • True enough.
      Some birds also will intentionally give themselves a “dust bath” to rid themselves of mites and other parasites.
      I wonder also if some birds would intentionally sit atop a smoky chimney for a similar reason, or at least found some benefit other than warmth that would allow them to tolerate the smoke. Or perhaps they specifically sought the smoke for the above mentioned reasons.

      • Before China rids itself of the soot stacks, there could be some research and data gathering regarding avian habitation regarding these areas. At least it would lend some insight to the already accumulated data.

      • Horned Larks do not sit on chimneys. From allaboutbirds.org

        Habitat
        The barer the ground, the more Horned Larks like it. Look for them in open country with very short or no vegetation, including bare agricultural fields. They breed in short grassland, short-stature sage shrubland, desert, and even alpine and arctic tundra.

        In S.E. Wisconsin you can find them in winter along country roads in the farm fields.

    • Possible… the UK Pied Wagtail, for example, forms large roosts in urban areas at night and formerly roosted in large numbers at a south coast oil refinery, among the stacks and pipework.

  15. A little history:

    Particulates were recognized as a pollutant in the late 50s. Coal contains noncombustible materials that just get carried along for the ride as the coal is being burned. The combustion process is not 100% efficient so you have unburned carbon or soot in the flue gas. These two constituents are fly ash and is emitted ion the flue gas from the combustion of coal Existing coal burning power plants were retrofitted with cyclonic separators (not a good choice and abandoned) electrostatic precipitators and fabric filters in the 1960s and early 70s to remove the particulates from the flue gas generated by coal fired power plants. All new coal fired power plants were required to have these devices. They removed about 80% of the particulates generated by the plants. The retrofit of these devices was a big challenge due to space limitations. As the technologies matured the removal efficiencies of new devices dramatically improved, some removing up to 99% of the particulates. Older plants were retrofitted with newer technologies to up their removal efficiencies. Over time the removal efficiencies have achieved 99.8%. That is the standard today with some even achieving higher removal efficiencies. So that helps explain the reduction in soot and particulates over time as the birds demonstrate. This is one of the many success stories of the industry that remains unknown because the media does not report on it, it is easy to use the term dirty coal rather than due a true analyses of the pros and cons of burning coal.

    SO2 was recognized as a pollutant in the early 70s. One of the constituents of coal is sulfur. It does not combust; it just reacts with oxygen and forms SO2. Early scrubbers to remove the SO2 from the flue gas were retrofitted on plants starting in the early 70s. The process to remove SO2 is far more complex than the process to remove particulates so it took a while for the technologies to develop and mature. Those were some wild and wooly times in the history of my industry. Lots of things were tried and lots of things failed. The original scrubbers were designed to remove 70% of the SO2. After many trials and tribulations the technology matured in the early to late 1980s. Removal of 97% of the SO2 is not uncommon. This is another success story of the industry that is not well known. Factoid, The industry has done such a great job of removing the SO2 that farmers have to add sulfur to the soils due to a shortage of sulfur in the soils. The coal fired power plants are selling the product generated by the removal of SO2 to the farmers to spread on their soil. If the EPA would allow the plants to reduce the SO2 removal efficiency of the scrubbers this would be a benefit to the country. This is called common sense and unfortunately the EPA does not have a lot of that.

    I have spent my entire 40 year career in the removal of pollutants from coal fired power plants located all over the world so I do know a little about what I am speaking. Coal fired power plants, in addition to particulates and SO2 now effectively removes NOx, SO3, mercury, and other minor pollutants. Also the waste products that are generated by these processes are no longer waste product but end products that are used in the building of roads, building and homes among many other uses. But hey it sounds good to say dirty coal fired power plants.

    • When we inspected the Croydon B power station and the Croydon Gas Works in 1952 (senior school excursion) we were told about the electrostatic filters used to remove the solid particles. The exhaust was passed between the plates, and the particles were attracted to one or other of the plates. Every now and then the plates were shaken and the particles slid down in a heap. Result, clean emissions. This was with non-sulphur bearing coal, or low sulphur coal, so no-one worried about any other allegedly noxious emissions.

  16. Somebody asked the question if China has built those dirty coal plants have they seen the cooling from the emission of soot. The plants that China is installing have electrostatic precipitators to remove the particulates. They do not maintain or operate them nearly as well as those in the U.S. so they do emit more than the U.S. plants but still remove a substantial amount so no you would not see the impacts of installing dirty coal plants since they are not dirty. Not as clean but not dirty.

  17. A little history:

    Particulates were recognized as a pollutant in the late 50s. Coal contains noncombustible materials that just get carried along for the ride as the coal is being burned. The combustion process is not 100% efficient so you have unburned carbon or soot in the flue gas. These two constituents are fly ash and is emitted ion the flue gas from the combustion of coal Existing coal burning power plants were retrofitted with cyclonic separators (not a good choice and abandoned) electrostatic precipitators and fabric filters in the 1960s and early 70s to remove the particulates from the flue gas generated by coal fired power plants. All new coal fired power plants were required to have these devices. They removed about 80% of the particulates generated by the plants. The retrofit of these devices was a big challenge due to space limitations. As the technologies matured the removal efficiencies of new devices dramatically improved, some removing up to 99% of the particulates. Older plants were retrofitted with newer technologies to up their removal efficiencies. Over time the removal efficiencies have achieved 99.8%. That is the standard today with some even achieving higher removal efficiencies. So that helps explain the reduction in soot and particulates over time as the birds demonstrate. This is one of the many success stories of the industry that remains unknown because the media does not report on it, it is easy to use the term dirty coal rather than due a true analyses of the pros and cons of burning coal.

    SO2 was recognized as a pollutant in the early 70s. One of the constituents of coal is sulfur. It does not combust; it just reacts with oxygen and forms SO2. Early scrubbers to remove the SO2 from the flue gas were retrofitted on plants starting in the early 70s. The process to remove SO2 is far more complex than the process to remove particulates so it took a while for the technologies to develop and mature. Those were some wild and wooly times in the history of my industry. Lots of things were tried and lots of things failed. The original scrubbers were designed to remove 70% of the SO2. After many trials and tribulations the technology matured in the early to late 1980s. Removal of 97% of the SO2 is not uncommon. This is another success story of the industry that is not well known. Factoid, The industry has done such a great job of removing the SO2 that farmers have to add sulfur to the soils due to a shortage of sulfur in the soils. The coal fired power plants are selling the product generated by the removal of SO2 to the farmers to spread on their soil. If the EPA would allow the plants to reduce the SO2 removal efficiency of the scrubbers this would be a benefit to the country. This is called common sense and unfortunately the EPA does not have a lot of that.

    I have spent my entire 40 year career in the removal of pollutants from coal fired power plants located all over the world so I do know a little about what I am speaking. Coal fired power plants, in addition to particulates and SO2 now effectively removes NOx, SO3, mercury, and other minor pollutants. Also the waste products that are generated by these processes are no longer waste product but end products that are used in the building of roads, building and homes among many other uses. But hey it sounds good to say dirty coal fired power plants.

    • “One of the constituents of coal is sulfur. It does not combust; it just reacts with oxygen and forms SO2.”

      In that case the coal doesn’t combust either. It just reacts with oxygen and forms CO2.

      • tty,
        Actually, it would be unusual to find native sulfur in the coal. It is usually iron sulfide (pyrite/marcasite) and zinc sulfide (sphalerite) that are the common impurities. Thus, the sulfides are broken down by the heat to produce SO3 along with iron and zinc oxides. I think that the processes may be exothermic, but it doesn’t meet the usual definition of combustion where a flame is produced and sufficient energy is produced to maintain the reaction, once initiated.

      • Clyde Spencer October 12, 2017 at 9:50 am
        tty,
        Actually, it would be unusual to find native sulfur in the coal. It is usually iron sulfide (pyrite/marcasite) and zinc sulfide (sphalerite) that are the common impurities. Thus, the sulfides are broken down by the heat to produce SO3 along with iron and zinc oxides. I think that the processes may be exothermic, but it doesn’t meet the usual definition of combustion where a flame is produced and sufficient energy is produced to maintain the reaction, once initiated.

        Actually it will form a flame, one thing you shouldn’t do with Iron Sulfide is grind it up into a powder as it’s likely to catch fire!

    • If the SO2 restrictions were eased, that would permit more SO2 (sulfide) to go into the air. Some of the will fall on the fields to do good and some will fall on urban areas and do harm. The form that plants need is sulfate, SO4. Typically sulfur based fertilizers are also combined with ammonia.
      I guess a cost/benefit analyses would need to be run to determine if the cost of additional scrubbing and dedicated fertilizer application is greater than the cost of allowing SO2 to freely combine with water and air to create H2SO4 (sulfuric acid) and acid rain.

      • rocketscientist,
        Probably it is best to capture and refine the effluents. Otherwise, things like zinc, cadmium, and mercury would be released as well as the sulfites/sulfates.

      • What is happening is the product produced by the reaction of SO2 and limestone is CaSO3. This is oxidized to form CaSO4, or gypsum. A large portion of the gypsum is used in the manufacture of wallboard. Many wallboard manufacturers are located very near coal fired power plants so the transportation costs are minimized.

        The lower quality gypsum or gypsum not needed is sold or given to the farmers to supplement their soils.

        Valid point on requiring a cost/benefit analyses, but that takes work and thinking.

      • Clyde, That is the little known secret. The scrubbers are great at removing several of the effluents that you are list below and a large portion of them end up in the gypsum being produced. It is no more than that found in natural gypsum so it is considered harmless.

        Some of the effluents stay in solution with the water and is currently being discharged as waste water without treatment. The EPA had considered those levels safe until recently. Under the Obama administration they were considering regulating and reducing the concentrations of some of those effluents like arsenic, mercury, and selenium. This was another attempt to shut down coal plants and several closures have been announced. The costs of these controls was going to be in the billions of dollars with, in my humble opinion, minimal impact on the environment. The time of implementing those regulations has been delayed. Each plant should be evaluated to see what treatment systems are needed to preserve the environment, not a one size fits all.

      • SO2 is sulfur DIOXIDE.
        It is an oxidized form of sulfur.

        S2- or S(-2) is sulfide.

        Sulfate is SO-2,4
        Sulfate are salts of sulfuric acid
        SULFATES are microscopic particles (aerosols) that result from fossil fuel and biomass burning.

  18. I remember from the mid 20th century where the city I lived in had a policy of no burning garbage on Monday since that was a day reserved for doing laundry when there was no clothes dyers, but all clothes were hung out on an outdoor cloths line to dry. By not burning garbage on Monday and not adding to the coal soot and wood ash from every residence and business heating their buildings in cooler weather, your cloths got a chance to dry without collecting too much soot, fly ash and particulates. Especially from burning garbage. This was before centralized garbage collection, when everyone had a burning barrel to rid themselves of their garbage.

    We have come a long way in reducing coarse particulate air pollution in developed nations over the last 60-70 years. Which is obviously a good thing. A recent reminder is the smoke and ash fallout from the forest fires in the Pacific NW and California this year. No one wants to return to those types of raw air pollution. At least by choice.

    Unfortunately, many people today still conflate soot, fly ash and black carbon with CO2, a trace atmospheric gas that is invisible, colourless and odourless. Now CO2 is the main boogeyman responsible not only as the sole source of global warming that is caused by man, but now climate change as well. At least limiting black carbon was a worthy cause that had obvious benefits when it was cleaned up. Which was by mainly converting to cleaner burning practices and more efficient clean burning fossil fuels with a huge increase in electricity use that was generated at power stations further away from the population.

    • Earthling2, A lot of reporters are guilty of just what you state. Pollutants are pollutants and we need to get rid of all of them. It has to be good. Well, it is a lot more complex than that. Some require complex processes to remove, some not so much. Some are in large quantities and some are not. The CO2 bogeyman is a huge huge quantity dwarfing the other constituents and requiring a very complex energy consuming process to remove and then a complex and energy consuming process to transport and store. And there are minimal locations that can that can store the huge quantity of compressed CO2 gas.

      • It is even worse with the EPA Endangerment Finding about CO2 being one of the main ‘pollutants’ that make up the six key greenhouse gases on the list- carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) – which were deemed responsible for contributing to climate change which the courts deemed result in a threat to the public health and welfare of current and future generations.

        The fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states with 95 percent confidence that humans are the main cause of current global warming. How is it that a court can rule with 100% confidence when the IPPC itself only admits to 95%? This too shall be undone by the Trump administration.

  19. “Dirty bird carcasses tell the story of how air pollution has improved in the last 100 years”

    Almost certainly not.

    The researchers would need to demonstrate that the sampled birds are not affected by the pollution, or that they are consistently affected by it over time. Near impossible with this sample size. A bird that can be caught by a human is likely already sick or already dead, for many possible reasons, and is certainly not representative of the whole population. There are so many variables that need to be controlled for, and so little evidence that ‘green’ researchers ever think about such things. This means such a study is probably useless, or worse. I’ll settle for much worse.

    • “A bird that can be caught by a human is likely already sick or already dead, for many possible reasons, and is certainly not representative of the whole population.”

      Not usually true for museum specimens, particularly not for the older ones which were almost invariably shot by the collector. And the documentation for the specimens is usually quite good. I should know, having gone through several thousand museum bird skins at one time or another.

  20. Article led me to wonder why no one appears to have used simile of “throwing out the baby (the good life giving photosynthesizing gas CO2) with the (dirty) bathwater (Pollution)”; many folks seem to confuse the two things IMHO and blame us non-politicized scientists for wanting to go back to the bad ol’ days of smogs.

  21. They look FATTER too. Perhaps better fed, perhaps easier (warmer) living conditions?
    Makes me wonder what killed these birds.

    • “In the middle of the 20th century, we made an investment in infrastructure and regulated fuel sources–hopefully, we can take that lesson and make a similar transition now to more sustainable, renewable energy sources that are more efficient and less harmful to our environment.”

      Unfortunately, wind turbines do more to birds than making certain that their white feathers stay clean.

    • They just keep the skins, not the flesh of the bird (skin, feathers, sometimes feet).

      also, scientists probably shot and collected them!

      (incidentally bird skins in museums are usually preserved by dusting them in arsenic: gloves required for handling!)

      • No, you don’t need to use gloves. Just don’t put your fingers in your mouth or your eyes, and be careful about washing your hands afterwards. I wouldn’t like to use gloves since you sometimes need to manipulate the skins a bit and they can be rather fragile, and often irreplaceable.

        Reminds me of an old friend who worked in a Natural History Museum. He used to say that the old emeritus professors around the place were so impregnated with arsenic that they lasted almost for ever.

  22. EPA had/ has plans to use mercury from coal fired plants as their next tactic to close coal plants and any industry the used coal. Since the 1970s FDA and EPA have over played the risk of mercury in the environment. The anti-mercury crowd preached that NO mercury was the only acceptable level. They preached and still do, even on the Cooking Channel, about the harm of eating marine fish higher than the FDA (actually court) established mercury standard. Yet we know from museum specimens that the levels of mercury in marine fish is no higher today than it was hundred plus years ago. What is truly bizarre is that people that eat more marine fish, including those above the FDA mercury level, as a part of their diet have less heart disease, mental illness and are generally healthier than those that do not include marine fish in their diet. A Japanese scientists from their Far Seas Laboratory bragged to me that he ate bluefin tuna sashimi every day of this life and only holidays a couple of times a day. I asked wasn’t he afraid of getting mercury poisoning. He laughed and said he would probably go broke long before he ate too much. He was in his late 70s, worked into his 80 and lived well into his 90s. For those that don’t know giant bluefin tuna have one of the highest mercury levels of any fish swimming. Bluefin tuna are one of the most valuable fish in the world because of the Japanese market.

  23. Aphan October 12, 2017 at 12:34 pm said:
    SO2 is sulfur DIOXIDE.
    It is an oxidized form of sulfur.
    — Correct apart from the American spelling!

    S2- or S(-2) is sulfide. – Right, the ion which will normally be chemically linked to hydrogen or a metal ion, and is never found in nature.

    Sulfate is SO-2,4
    Sulfate(S) are salts of sulfuric acid – Agreed.
    SULFATES are microscopic particles (aerosols) that result from fossil fuel and biomass burning.
    NO. Again a sulphate (note English spelling) is an ion and is similarly normally linked to a metal – or hydrogen, as in Sulphuric Acid or Potassium Sulphate.

    The usual gaseous product of burning metal sulphides in coal is Sulphur dioxide. This has to be catalyzed to create Sulphur Trioxide (SO3) – IIRC Monsanto at their plant in Cefn Mawr in Wales used platinum as a catalyst. Add water (H20) and you get H2SO4. This is troublesome! Again IIRC it was necessary to dissolve the raw H2SO4 product in “oleum” which is very highly concentrated H2SO4 with very little excess water. Strangely, it is barely corrosive in that state. However, when slightly diluted it becomes exceedingly corrosive, especially to organic compounds, and our chemistry master told us a story of an oleum tanker that leaked large quantities, which just sat there. Unfortunately a woman was walking by, and it covered her feet. At first no more than a slight tingle, then as the outer layer of skin was converted to carbon, (it is intensely hygroscopic) it started eating away and she lost her feet by the time she staggered out of the pool. Only remedy is VAST quantities of water to wash it away – a little water converts it into the normal sulphuric acid used in school laboratories. Demonstration – a couple of teaspoons of sugar in a test tube then pour on high strength sulphuric acid. Not much effect at first, then as the acid broke down the carbohydrate and removed the water, it suddenly turned into a fluffy mass of carbon, with much hissing and steam production.

    I was about 12 3/4 when I was shown over the works – very impressive, especially the smell when the wind was in the wrong direction.

    • Dudley,

      There absolutely are sulfates found in nature. They are called organo-sulfates. And it doesn’t matter how you spell it, with an “f” (American) or a “ph” (British English) they are referring to the same thing.

      “Among the most important of these are sulfate aerosols, microscopic particles smaller than a millionth of a meter suspended in the air. Sulfate aerosols are produced primarily from sulphur dioxide (SO2) emitted during the combustion of fossil fuels. Along with ozone precursors, they are primary causes of acid rain and of lung irritation and ground-level haze or smog in polluted areas. (Yale Climate Connection)”

      “The third type of aerosol comes from human activities. While a large fraction of human-made aerosols come in the form of smoke from burning tropical forests, the major component comes in the form of sulfate aerosols created by the burning of coal and oil.”
      NASA

      “The composition of aerosol samples collected from various field campaigns showed clearly that organo-sulfates/nitrates may serve as excellent molecular tracers for anthropogenically affected aerosol sources, as it is the case of urban atmosphere.”
      https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-007-5034-0_17

      Not all aerosols are sulfates, and not all sulfates are aerosols. But sulfate aerosols are microscopic particles (these particles can be liquids or solids) that are formed when SO2 emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels, combines with H20 in the atmosphere, and forms sulfuric acid, which is then suspended in the air.

      The only catalyst needed to turn the sulfur dioxide into sulfur trioxide is OXYGEN. SO2 becomes SO3 by adding one more oxygen atom…platinum sounds like a very expensive catalyst when oxygen works just as well.

      “When coal is burned the sulfur combines with oxygen and the sulfur oxides are released to the atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) becomes sulfur trioxide (SO3) when reacting with oxygen in the air. This reacts with water molecules in the atmosphere to form sulfuric acid, a strong mineral acid. This makes rain acidic.”
      http://butane.chem.uiuc.edu/pshapley/Enlist/Labs/AcidRain2/index.html

      SO2+oxygen=SO3 and SO3 + H20= H2SO4

      • Thanks Aphan. I have no doubt that in the long run atmospheric sulphur dioxide can be converted to sulphuric acid with the addition of oxygen and water. However, my understanding is that the process is (very) slow. I understand that the normal atmospheric conversion is sulphur dioxide plus water creates sulphurous acid, which is then very slowly oxidized to sulphuric acid. In a chemical works, the need is to do it cheaply and quickly. So platinum is used as the catalyst. Remember that the catalyst improves the reaction, but is not used up (it takes part in the reaction but it is also regenerated, so the same quantity still remains at the end as at the start). So the use of platinum, while extensive to start with, has a very low cost – probably negligible – given the large quantities of sulphuric acid created.

        Checked up on Wikipaedia, and I find that platinum is no longer used as it is subject to contamination by arsenic impurities in the sulphur feedstock. Instead Vanadium Oxide, or Vanadium Pentoxide, is used (V2O5). Also I found that the formula for ‘oleum’ is H2S2O7. This is the result of sulphuric acid plus sulphur trioxide. The oleum can then be added to water, not the other way around !!!!! The result of the reverse would be like the result of adding water to a can of boiling fat or oil – a massive fireball! Just a massive corrosive mist, rather than the oil + water fireball.

        Not too bad a memory considering that my visit to the chemical works was 1947.

        Regards

        Dudley

      • Further to my last, here in Australia we are blessed (?) with substantial areas of acid sulphate soils. Wikipaedia says of them:

        “Acid sulfate soils are naturally occurring soils, sediments or organic substrates (e.g. peat) that are formed under waterlogged conditions. These soils contain iron sulfide minerals (predominantly as the mineral pyrite) or their oxidation products. In an undisturbed state below the water table, acid sulfate soils are benign. However, if the soils are drained, excavated or exposed to air by a lowering of the water table, the sulfides react with oxygen to form sulfuric acid.[1]

        Release of this sulfuric acid from the soil can in turn release iron, aluminium, and other heavy metals (particularly arsenic) within the soil. Once mobilized in this way, the acid and metals can create a variety of adverse impacts: killing vegetation, seeping into and acidifying groundwater[2][3] and surface water bodies,[4][5] killing fish and other aquatic organisms, and degrading concrete and steel structures to the point of failure.[1]”:

        You can imagine the effect on railway sleepers – concrete or steel – of acid sulphate soils when you remember that in order to avoid the line being disturbed by floods normal procedure is to lay the track on a raised embankment. Soil dries out and railway concrete or steel sleepers become degraded “to the point of failure”. Not sure what the railway authorities do – perhaps they import soil from far away to build the embankments and keep the surrounding soil wet.

        Regards

        Dudley

    • “Add water (H20) and you get H2SO4. This is troublesome!”

      It may be troublesome but also extremely useful. Sulfuric acid is in competition with crude oil and salt as the most important raw material for chemical industry, and is produced and transported in massive quantities.

      By the way oleum was once used by the military to create artificial fog. It is as you say intensely hygroscopic and when sprayed into anything but extremely dry air will create a dense fog of sulfuric acid droplets.

  24. Maybe just adaptation to the darker environment where darker birds have more chance to survive than white birds. The same as animals turning white for winter.

  25. The two birds at the bottom of the picture are only six years apart; I can’t make out the other dates but the caption is misleading. The difference between these birds has probably less to do with decades and more to do with location and seasons. (Gullible me: I reposted the picture to facebook and my sister called its bluff.) –AGF

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