Open-air burning of funeral pyres : a source of carbon aerosols

Smoke from open-air burning of funeral pyres in India and Nepal is a significant source of production of carbon aerosols, a new study has claimed.

Rajan Chakrabarty, Ph.D., an assistant research professor at the Desert Research Institute, began looking into the regional inventories of human-produced sources of carbon aerosol pollution in South Asia, considered to be a climate change hot spot, he knew something was missing.

Chakrabarty said that current emission inventories do not account for cultural burning practices in Asia as aerosol sources.

Teaming up with Shamsh Pervez , Ph.D., a professor of Chemistry at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University, India and a 2011 Fulbright fellow to DRI, Chakrabarty designed and executed a comprehensive study to investigate the nature and impact of pollutant particles emitted from the widely-prevalent cultural practice of open-air funeral pyre burning in India and Nepal.

More than seven million pyres, each weighing around 550 kilograms, are burned every year throughout India and Nepal and these pyres consume an estimated 50 to 60 million trees annually.

Chakrabarty and colleagues found to their surprise that funeral pyre emissions contain sunlight-absorbing organic carbon aerosols known as brown carbon.

In the past, numerous studies have identified black carbon aerosols emitted from combustion of fossil fuels and residential biofuels as the dominant light-absorbing aerosol over South Asia.

The researchers estimate the mean light-absorbing organic aerosol mass emitted from funeral pyres to be equivalent of approximately 23 percent of the total carbonaceous aerosol mass produced by anthropogenic burning of fossil fuels, and 10 percent of biofuels in the region.

The study has been published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters.


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