Everything You Need To Know About Sulfur Dioxide In Relation To Climate Change

sulfur dioxide: clouds on the sky

If you want to learn about climate change, you will need to understand how sulfur dioxide emissions play a role in impacting the health of the planet. You probably are already aware of how acid rain has an impact on your health and the environment. 

When fossil fuels are burned to create energy to power cities, transportation, and manufacturing processes in industry, one of the more significant greenhouse gasses that are emitted is sulfur dioxide. 

The problem with greenhouse gas emissions is that it not only gets trapped in the atmosphere with no escape, but it amplifies and reflects heat causing temperatures to soar. 

When humans and wildlife are faced with inescapable heat that lasts for long stretches, it can be fatal. Additionally, extreme temperatures put a strain on current crumbling infrastructure for electricity, heating, and cooling.


sulfur oxide: smokestacks are bad for your health renewable energy is better

When faced with the crises of irreversible and extreme climate change, scientists have proposed harnessing sulfur dioxide to cool off the planet. Scientists have also urged for multiple countries to work in tandem to significantly reduce dangerous gas emissions caused by industry and transit. 

According to Science Direct, humans have known of sulfur's dangers to health and environment for centuries. During an incident in London during 1880, over 1,000 people perished as a result of contact with toxic sulphuric gasses released from combustion of coal. 

When sulfur compounds reach the atmosphere, it is when they come into contact with air and water that they become transformed into more lethal and deleterious substances.

sulfur oxide: acid rain diagram

 Chiefly, sulfur compounds readily become sulfuric acid, acid rain, and cause corrosion to human structures. Also, animals and plants can meet a fatal end when making contact with sulfuric compounds. 

One reason sulfuric oxides are so detrimental is that they are hard to remove from the air, soil, and water. Additionally, when there is acid rain present, the inability of natural surroundings to stay alkaline or neutral for optimal health becomes nearly impossible.


What Is Sulfur Dioxide

What Is Sulfur Dioxide

The greenhouse gas emission that is sulfur dioxide is colorless, but has a repugnant taste and odor, and is also an irritant. 

Surprisingly, albeit this greenhouse gas contributes to acid rain and climate change, it is also harnessed in industrial food production methods to preserve foods from spoiling and becoming brown in color.

Volcanoes may be a naturally occurring source of these sulfur-based dioxides. However, when it comes to human-created emissions, the burning of coal at power plants, oil, and natural gas used in vehicles is largely to blame for air pollution and environmental problems.


sulfur oxide: metal is extracted from the earth

Additionally, when metal is extracted from the earth or large ships are in transit, dioxides that are sulfur-based are produced and released into the atmosphere.

Regarding the health impact felt by these increased noxious emissions, air and water quality are both heavily affected. 

When the dioxides mix in the air it can exacerbate health problems such as allergic reactions, asthma, and difficulty breathing. People with heart problems or cardiovascular ailments may be more susceptible.

Acid rain is created when dioxides come into contact with rain clouds, creating sulfuric rain that is damaging to lakes, rivers, and trees. Aquatic-based wildlife can quickly succumb to a fatality or defects brought on by acidification of their watery environment.

Overall, it is critical to remember that sulfur oxides are created and can enter the environment via the following methods.

  • ​Natural volcanic eruptions
  • ​The burning of fossil fuels such as coal for industrial needs
  • ​Extraction of metals and ore from the planet

​Although agencies such as the EPA do what they can to enforce and demand changes to protect the air and water quality, cleaning up existing sulfur oxides in the environment is another issue onto itself.

Getting A Closer Look at Sulfur Oxides

Getting A Closer Look at Sulfur Oxides

Regarding sulfur oxide emissions in the environment, unfortunately, this is one of the most hazardous elements. As a highly reactive component, sulfur oxides have adverse effects on respiratory health, damage natural greenery, and are difficult to control.

Some industries may employ the use of scrubbers or sludge to help tame sulfur oxide emissions, but it comes at a high cost.

The search to uncover and employ feasible methods to control and reduce sulfuric emissions by humans is in demand.

Humans that are exposed to sulfuric oxide compounds are liable to experience tightness in the chest or wheezing. Long-term exposure to sulfuric oxides can lead to aggravated cardiovascular conditions or severe respiratory distress.

Various processes to remove or reduce sulfur oxide levels include the following:

  • ​Wet or dry deposition
  • ​Absorption of oxides by vegetation or the soil
  • ​Dissolution of oxides into the air or water

​As sulfuric compounds can be found in soot and particulates, industrial created flue gas has enjoyed greater examination as a solution that needs to be expanded.

Overall, humans can thank their consumer demands on various industrial products and manufacturing of goods for acid rain, damage to wildlife populations, plants, and lowered air quality.

Taking steps to actively reduce consumption of sulfur-based fuel sources and placing stricter controls on industry will help.


Getting A Grip On Controlling Emissions

sulfur oxide: Image of factory putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

For the most part, humans can look forward to a future powered by clean fuel solutions. Unfortunately, simply reducing the amount of sulfur oxide producing fuels is not enough to make a dent in climate change.

Although the Paris climate summit has sought to unite nations to stop global temperatures from raising another 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, the situation is dire.

There is still too many emissions that are sulfuric based, or release additions such as methane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide based that are harming the environment.

air pollution chimney

 Current methods to lessen sulfur release such as coal washing, switching to low sulfur fuels, or fluidized bed combustion is not being employed at the level it needs to be for significant change.

Ideally, if an industrial source of sulfuric pollution could utilize multiple methods of controlling emissions, it would be best. However, the cost and feasibility of fully implementing control methods that reduce up to 90% of emissions is a deciding factor.

Flue gas desulphurization seems to provide the highest amount of sulfur removal. And if flue gas desulphurization was employed alongside low-sulfur fuel, and demand on such energy resources was lessened, humans might see a turnaround.


Measuring Sulfur Dioxide And Resulting Climate Change

The problem with sulfur oxides is that it can contribute to a release of varying oxides into the atmosphere. When fine compounds of sulfur oxides are discovered, they are capable of inflicting significant damage to the health of both young people and the elderly.

It is possible that minuscule particles of sulfurous oxides can enter the lungs and wreak havoc.

If you are unsure if your local region has been touched by sulfur oxides, take a closer look around to see if there is ever haze present, stains on the surfaces of buildings, or damaged foliage.

Geo-engineering To Combat Climate Change


Whereas sulfur dioxide has been studied for its deleterious effects on the atmosphere and inflicted damage on the climate, some scientists have extreme ideas revolving around the gas emissions and climate change.

Namely, scientists have repeatedly proposed the idea of shooting the compound into the atmosphere to rapidly cool the climate.

According to sources such as Wired, the idea behind using sulfur emissions to cool the planet comes from observing volcanoes in nature.

When a volcano erupts, there is plenty of emissions ejected into the air. However, albeit volcanoes are a significant natural source of warming the client following an eruption, the emissions from a volcanic event is nowhere close to the compounded and long-term effects felt by human actions on a daily basis.

sulfur oxide: mount pinatubo first eruption

When volcano Mount Pinatubo erupted in the year 1991, the additional 17 million tons of sulfur compounds that were emitted into the air managed to cool down atmospheric temperatures by about 0.5 to 0.6 degrees Celsius.

Although the simplistic idea of shooting dioxides with a sulfur base seems like an easy fix, there are other factors to consider.

The problem with geo-engineering projects is that there is not enough research to understand what could go wrong. Also, scientists and the politicians who could potentially give a geo-engineering project a green light, have to weigh out the consequences for local and wider risks for a region.

If global temperatures were to raise or drop too quickly, the result could be catastrophic and not easily changed.


Reducing Sulfur Dioxide In Environment

sulfur oxide: clean and green environment

To better reduce the number of sulfur emissions in the environment, people can choose to minimize their use of personal vehicles and utilize energy-efficient household items whenever possible. 

Nuclear power plants are sought after as a better alternative to coal power plants, as it does not release undesirable dioxides that are sulfur based into the air.

Seeking out energy alternatives such as solar energy, wind energy, or harnessing water can help limit emissions. Additionally, if coal power plants make an effort to reduce sulfuric compounds from coal before processing and burning off as fuel, it would help.

sulfur oxide Uk Solar Power Experiment CC BY 2.0 by David Blaikie

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