Quantifying immediate radiative forcing by black carbon and organic matter with the Specific Forcing Pulse

T. C. Bond, C. Zarzycki, M. G. Flanner, D. M. Koch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Climatic effects of short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs) differ from those of long-lived greenhouse gases, because they occur rapidly after emission and because they depend upon the region of emission. The distinctive temporal and spatial nature of these impacts is not captured by measures that rely on global averages or long time integrations. Here, we propose a simple measure, the Specific Forcing Pulse (SFP), to quantify climate warming or cooling by these pollutants, where we define "immediate" as occurring primarily within the first year after emission. SFP is the amount of energy added to or removed from a receptor region in the Earth-atmosphere system by a chemical species, per mass of emission in a source region. We limit the application of SFP to species that remain in the atmosphere for less than one year. Metrics used in policy discussions, such as total forcing or global warming potential, are easily derived from SFP. However, SFP conveys purely physical information without incurring the policy implications of choosing a time horizon for the global warming potential. Using one model (Community Atmosphere Model, or CAM), we calculate values of SFP for black carbon (BC) and organic matter (OM) emitted from 23 source-region combinations. Global SFP for both atmosphere and cryosphere impacts is divided among receptor latitudes. SFP is usually greater for open-burning emissions than for energy-related (fossil-fuel and biofuel) emissions because of the timing of emission. Global SFP for BC varies by about 45% for energy-related emissions from different regions. This variation would be larger except for compensating effects. When emitted aerosol has larger cryosphere forcing, it often has lower atmosphere forcing because of less deep convection and a shorter atmospheric lifetime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1505-1525
Number of pages21
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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