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Study finds that worldwide SO2 emissions rose between 2000-2005 after decade of decline; China, shipping topped growth

Global sulfur dioxide emissions by region. Credit: Smith et al. Click to enlarge.

Global sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions peaked in the early 1970s and decreased until 2000, with an increase in recent years due to increased emissions in China, international shipping, and developing countries in general, according to a new analysis appearing in the open access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Sulfur aerosols impact human health, ecosystems, agriculture, and global and regional climate.

The analysis by researchers in the US and Europe estimates anthropogenic global and regional sulfur dioxide emissions spanning the period 1850–2005 using a bottom-up mass balance method, calibrated to country-level inventory data. The team also conducted an uncertainty analysis including both random and systemic uncertainties.

While the overall global uncertainty in sulfur dioxide emissions is relatively small, regional uncertainties ranged up to 30%. The largest contributors to uncertainty at present, the authors said, are emissions from China and international shipping. Emissions were distributed on a 0.5° grid by sector for use in coordinated climate model experiments.

Anthropogenic emissions have resulted in greatly increased sulfur deposition and atmospheric sulfate loadings near most industrialized areas. Sulfuric acid deposition can be detrimental to ecosystems, harming aquatic animals and plants, and damaging to a wide range of terrestrial plant life. Sulfur dioxide forms sulfate aerosols that have a significant effect on global and regional climate. Sulfate aerosols reflect sunlight into space and also act as condensation nuclei, which tend to make clouds more reflective and change their lifetimes, causing a net cooling. The radiative forcing change wrought by sulfate aerosols may be second only to that caused by carbon dioxide, albeit in the opposite direction [i.e., cooling].

Sulfur is ubiquitous in the biosphere and often occurs in relatively high concentrations in fossil fuels, with coal and crude oil deposits commonly containing 1–2% sulfur by weight. The widespread combustion of fossil fuels has, therefore, greatly increased sulfur emissions into the atmosphere, with the anthropogenic component now substantially greater than natural emissions on a global basis.

—Smith et al.

To determine how much sulfur has been emitted between the approximate beginning of the Industrial Age, 1850, and 2005, Steven Smith of the Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Md.—a collaboration between the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland—and colleagues analyzed data about sulfur-emitting activities such as coal burning, copper smelting, or the use of petroleum. The data came from more than 140 countries and went back as far as the 1800s, when publications even at that time tallied how much coal and copper were produced.

The team collected the datasets, evaluated the quality of the records and plotted the data over time, breaking them down by region, source—such as coal or oil burning—and economic use such as heating or cooking, power production, and others.

The team estimated emissions data both by calculating sulfur release based on how much was contained in sources as well as from actual data on emissions collected from modern power plants.

Global petroleum emissions from the present inventory compared to estimates from a global crude oil mass balance using two different assumptions for the fraction of total sulfur retained in non-combusted products. The inventory data include terrestrial and international shipping combustion and process emissions from refineries. Also shown is the estimated global amount of sulfur removed at refineries (as Gg SO2). Credit: Smith et al. Click to enlarge.

The factors that determine total emissions are the amount of fuel consumed, its sulfur content, and any pollution controls employed. The team found that manmade sources of sulfur emissions eclipsed natural sources by 1870, two decades after the start date of this analysis. By the year 2000, however, refineries were removing half the sulfur from crude oil, reducing emissions, the researchers estimated.

Since 1980, the fraction of sulfur coming from petroleum (50%) and coal (30%) has remained constant. In a reflection of desires for cleaner fuels, emissions as a fraction of fuel consumption began decreasing around 1970, due to shifting to lower sulfur fuel sources, different end uses, and emissions controls.

Total global emissions rose dramatically from 1850 to the 1960s, plateaued and then decreased after 1990, and then started rising again in 2000. Although the contribution from major emitters of the past—North America and Europe—has been declining since the 1970s, sulfur emissions are rising in much of the rest of the world. Especially noteworthy is China with its phenomenal growth. By 2005, China’s share of sulfur emissions came in at 28% of the global total, up from about 2% in 1950.

The international shipping industry generally uses a lower quality, higher sulfur content fuel than other transportation modes, and emissions from this activity have been growing in importance. They now constitute 10% of the global total. Although rising during the study’s time frame, a recent international agreement (MARPOL) promises to reduce these emissions in future years.

This work was supported by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science.


  • S. J. Smith, J. van Aardenne, Z. Klimont, R. J. Andres, A. Volke, S. Delgado Arias (2011) Anthropogenic Sulfur Dioxide Emissions: 1850-2005, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, doi: 10.5194/acp-11-1101-2011



India's will also rise quickly in the next 10 years or so as industry is moving East.


It should be noted that the last time SO2 emissions were on the rise was pre-1970 and that for about three decades before that the effect was global dimming, as seen in the temperature record as a drop of the global temperature. GD overpowered GW for a time.

Any effect of the rise in SO2 emissions this last decade would seem to have been, so far, overpowered by the effects of GHGs.


I should be worried because North America's SO2 emissions have declined and are at now at 1920s levels?

Europe SO2 levels have fallen from higher levels to 1900 levels.

Plus we know that MARPOL Shipping Treaty already adopted will lead to major declines in SO2 from international shipping during this decade.

If this good news is the worst that the domsday forecasters are predicting, please give some more forboding predictions.

As for the "global dimming" that is particular conceit of the Warmists quacks, who can't explain falling temperatures from 1940 to 1978, or from 1998 until today, despite the "monotonic rise" in trace gas CO2 levels over the period.


"By 2005, China’s share of sulfur emissions came in at 28% of the global total, up from about 2% in 1950."

Killing their own and the rest of the planet. Acid rain will further deplete freshwater fish stocks courtesy of these new real industrial polluters.



You're actually going to try and push the old "global warming stopped in 1998 argument?"

Dude, you get a ::facepalm:: for that.

Haven't you seen the news? This last decade was the warmest on record;


ai_vin will appreciate this:


Follow the money.


ai_vin et al,

Mr. Hansen's corrupt GISS deviates more and more from every other measurement and compilation of weather reports over time. When 5/6 ths of the reporting stations have disapeared in the past 40 years, the value of such complilations is highly debateable.

I conclude that the GISS perversion of weather reports have created data of no meaning. Trying to obtain trends in the third decimal place from such a variable weather record is a fool's errand.

Unlike y'all, I actually possess scientific and engineering degrees. In an of itself that is worth noting only because of the years of skull sweat it took to actually understand scientific phenomena,as a working professional. I am an working environmentalist whose businesses actually did things to make the enviroment and sustainability better, rather than just talk about it.

OTOH, we have an astronomer with no climatology or data processing (data base)/librarian training issuing his opinions of the world's climate and not maintaining the integrity of the data sets entrusted to his care. His preference for totalitarian socialism has ben recorded form his own lips. His predictions to Congress under oath, in 1988, have been laughably wrongheaded. Just like the fool at East Anglia University, Mr. Hansen has allowed numerous changes to those data sets without creating audit trails of modifications, so today the raw data is iretrevably gone.

That is malfeasance of office at historic levels. They are more useless as a data repository of weather reports, to be used for a purpose that were dubiously thought to be possible as a climatology record accurate to thousandths of a degree.

The reality is that the change in a trace gas in parts per million can do little or nothing to affect the climate except in the most tertiary way imagineable, and swamped in the natural variability of weather.


Yeah yeah sure, meanwhile if you check out the youtube I linked you'll see Pat Michaels, a well known skeptic, telling other denailists - in private: 'Global warming is real...people have something to do about it...get over it.'


And of course at the begining of that youtube (starting about 2 minutes in) he told the group 'don't tell people global warming stopped in 1998 because it's been debunked and you'll be called on it.'

You did, and you were.


The annoying thing is these funds COULD be used for legitimate sustainability programs eg, converting coal to NG. But as "climate research" the money gets pissed away into piles of worthless reports and meaningless studies like THIS one.

Follow the 2011 money.


Yeah sure Reel. While reading that article I came across this quote: "Except that the Earth is NOT warming. It has been cooling since 1998."
Thus making Alan Caruba yet another member of THAT crowd.

Do you really need me to repeat my replies to ExDemo?


Correction: THIS study is of value as it documents REAL pollutants. Unlike the clowns "studying" CO2...



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