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The effects of soot in changing the climate are more than most scientists acknowledge, and could be twice as bad as carbon dioxide, according to a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

NASA researchers James Hansen and Larissa Nazarenko modelled how soot particles – the dusty byproduct of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, plants and wood – affect climate when they darken snow and ice, causing it to absorb sunlight rather than reflect it.

Soot concentrations vary in time and place, but they are often high over China and India, where coal and organic fuels are used domestically. The researchers suggest that trying to reduce the amount of soot would be easier than cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

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