Study confirms nature responsible for 90% of the Earth's atmospheric acidity

Jan 11, 2012 By Melissa Coade
Dr Murphy and Professor Griffith with the suntracker of the solar Fourier transform spectrometer that backed surprising satellite readings linking most formic acid emissions from forests

(PhysOrg.com) -- Satellites showing that nature is responsible for 90% of the earth’s atmospheric acidity shocked researchers from the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, whose findings have just been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Stunned, the scientists approached a team from the University of Wollongong’s Centre of Atmospheric Chemistry (CAC) to confirm what satellite readings were telling them.

By providing data from a ground-based solar Fourier transform spectrometer instrument at the University, CAC used 15-years worth of information to verify the ’s story: all existing global models had substantially misjudged the main source of levels on – its forests.

UOW Physical Chemistry lecturer Dr Clare Murphy (Paton-Walsh) made the first measurements of formic acid with the instrument as part of her PhD looking at the atmospheric emissions of bushfires.

“The instrument provides a spectral record, of which you can analyse for a whole number of different gases, and formic acid is one that is relatively new,” Dr Murphy said.

“The modelling shows, particularly, that natural forest emissions have been highly underestimated. Our forest areas are producing more formic acid than we ever thought,” she said.

Dr Murphy said the unexpected results might well mean forests are responsible for most of the acidity in rainwater in areas other than highly-polluted inner-cities.

“Our instrumentation has global significance because the number of facilities in the region are very limited. In order to capture some of the major forests of the Southern Hemisphere this machine was crucial,” she said.

In the atmosphere, formic acid impacts a number of important pH-sensitive chemical reactions such as the production and loss of radicals affecting the ozone. Quickly absorbed by microbes, formic acid is not associated with the harmful effects of acid rain.

According to CAC coordinator and co-contributor Professor David Griffith, the results provide a whole new angle to existing knowledge about our atmosphere.

“When it comes to understanding the fundamental chemistry that goes on and the whole oxidiative cycle, where formic acid has an important impact is that it is one component of the soup which controls the ability of the atmosphere to oxidise pollutants and get rid of them,” Professor Griffith said.

“Normally you take your measurements and might make a 10 or 20 percent adjustment to an estimate of a source but here we’ve proven by several factors that our understanding was wrong,” he said.

The study showed that terrestrial vegetation accounts for 90 percent of annual formic acid production. Other sources include fossil fuel combustion, agriculture and biomass burning.

Explore further: Research could help save billions of dollars as sea levels rise

Provided by University of Wollongong

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Cave_Man
1.9 / 5 (13) Jan 11, 2012
Study confirms most things are considered nature.

Uranium is found in nature and is therefore a natural part of nature.
Physmet
4.5 / 5 (6) Jan 11, 2012
"Stunned, the scientists approached a team..."

Does anyone else picture scientists walking around with a dazed expression every time you read physorg articles? The writers always say they're "shocked" or "stunned". lol
Deathclock
4.3 / 5 (12) Jan 11, 2012
"Study confirms nature responsible for 100% of everything, by definition"
Vendicar_Decarian
4.7 / 5 (14) Jan 11, 2012
See, St. Ronald Reagan was right.

Trees cause acid rain, and if you give them matches, trees also cause most forest fires.

This is why killing all of the trees will save the planet from their destructive anti-environmental effects.

Deadbolt
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2012
Scientists shocked to discover that puny humans are responsible for 10% of the entire Earth's atmospheric acidity.
Xbw
1.8 / 5 (16) Jan 12, 2012
This is why killing all of the trees will save the planet from their destructive anti-environmental effects.


I knew I couldn't trust those shady trees....Haha I made a pun and didn't even mean to.
BrianH
3 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2012
"one component of the soup" put me in mind of this, for some reason:

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
BrianH
5 / 5 (2) Jan 12, 2012
Scientists shocked to discover that puny humans are responsible for 10% of the entire Earth's atmospheric acidity.

No, the 10% includes ALL other causes (forest fires, termites, volcanoes, etc. come to mind.)

And didn't you notice that it's the acidity that breaks down other pollutants? Ergo, acidity is good! Or SLT.
astro_optics
3 / 5 (4) Jan 15, 2012
We better cut down all the trees before they ruin the oceans due acidity!
Callippo
3.2 / 5 (5) Jan 15, 2012
It's true, the majority of formic acid may come from forests - but does the formic acid form the majority of Earth's atmospheric acidity? So far I believed, the carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide is what makes the acid rains for us. Such subtle "mistakes" are typical for anti-AGW propaganda.
_ilbud
2 / 5 (2) Jan 15, 2012
Melissa Choad has made some stupid mistakes, mistakes so large they must be deliberate lies and distortions. She should be fired.