The puzzling colors of climate change

Every time you take a breath, you inhale
millions of tiny bits of material called aerosols. They’re basically just solids and liquids
that are floating around in the air. Like smoke, smog, and even clouds. And there’s so
many of these aerosols in the atmosphere that they significantly impact global
climate change. Almost as much as even carbon dioxide. We know a lot about carbon dioxide, but
we don’t know as much about these aerosols. It’s like they’re missing piece
in the climate change puzzle. What we do know is that generally, these aerosols have a cooling
effect on the climate, but it really depends on their color. White, black, or
brown. You’ve probably noticed that when you wear a black shirt and a son you get
hotter than if you were wearing white. Well, I like to think of the atmosphere as the earth’s t-shirt. And if it’s full of white clouds, it will cool the climate down. But if it’s full of black aerosols like smoke, well, things are going to heat up. Now brown
aerosol which we see every day and smog have a slight warming effect, but what
really makes them interesting is that when they absorb sunlight can actually change
color — from brown to white. And that changes how they can affect climate. I want to know how quickly this
color change happens and how it can affect climate change, especially at
different environmental conditions. To do this, I’ve actually built a device that
allows me to make my own brown aerosols it’s called “Mallory’s Aerosol Generating Irradiation Chamber.” I call it MAGIC and it can make
aerosols under controlled conditions in the lab by mimicking the processes that
actually make aerosols in the atmosphere. So once I’ve made these aerosols, I can collect
them, shine artificial sunlight on them, and measure how quickly they change color
at different temperatures. What I found is that warmer conditions, this color change
happens even faster than at cooler conditions. And this is important because it means that
Brown aerosols in cold parts of the atmosphere will stay brown for longer and contribute a
warming effect for a longer period of time.
But why does this even happen? Well, we suspect that it’s not
necessarily a temperature, but these aerosols are essentially the consistency
of peanut butter. And can you imagine trying to swim through peanut butter? Probably
wouldn’t work, but what if you were to heat it up and Then that peanut butter would start to melt. And then you could swim faster.
Same thing happens with aerosols. As they get warmer, they get more liquidy, allowing the
molecules inside of them to move around faster and thus change the color faster.
Aerosols are vital to our understanding climate change. We’ve paid a lot of
attention to carbon dioxide over the past several decades. We need to pay just as
much attention to these aerosols if we want to implement the most effective
environmental policies. my work gets us one step closer and fills in one more piece
of this climate change puzzle. Thank you!

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