Accidental breakthrough on the puzzle of atmospheric acids

Aug 17, 2012
Accidental breakthrough on the puzzle of atmospheric acids
The blue haze which gives the Blue Mountains their name is a result of plants releasing a wide variety of oils.

In a classic example of an accidental scientific breakthrough a University of Sydney research team may have solved the mystery of why there is more non-industrial acid in air than anyone can explain.

"We did not set out to solve the longstanding question of why the atmosphere has twice as many acids produced by plants - that is - than scientists have previously been able to account for," said the University's Professor Scott Kable.

"The , or atmosphere closest to earth, contains 90 megatons of organic acids, which is twice as much as current predict. Our new insight should now be taken into account in climate modelling."

Professor Kable and his School of Chemistry colleague Dr Meredith Jordan are lead authors of the study published in Science.

When Sydneysiders remark on the which gives the Blue Mountains their name what they are seeing is a result of plants releasing a wide variety of oils.

Once sunlight acts on the oils it produces a haze which contains twice the amount of organic acid than would predict from a corresponding volume of plants.

"Organic acids in the atmosphere have an impact. They dissolve in water and acidify droplets, changing its pH value. is very sensitive to water and soil pH," said Professor Kable.

The puzzle has been solved because of experimental research led by Professor Kable being supported by the theoretical modelling led by Dr Meredith Jordan.

"The compound we concentrated on was acetaldehyde, which is very common in the atmosphere. We were simply trying to understand what happens to it in the presence of light. A special form of acetaldehyde was synthesised by colleagues that allowed us to follow the chemistry at a level not previously attempted. We used a laser to imitate the action of the sun," said Professor Kable.

"Excitingly the resulting products were not what we had predicted but because these were laboratory results, conducted in a vacuum, we had to find out what would happen in the real world, in atmospheric conditions."

These results confirmed that the chemical transformation was producing high yields - 25 percent of molecules were being transformed into vinyl alcohol, which in turn forms organic acid under the sun's action.

The chemical process is called keto-enol tautomerisation, where a hydrogen atom is transferred to a different part of a molecule to create vinyl alcohol.

"It is a very happy accidental result, in the best traditions of science, that our pure research has produced this outcome.

"Understanding the mechanism different organic acids are produced by is the key to understanding their apparent overabundance in the atmosphere," said Professor Kable.

"For rural regions and especially for regions with a lot of plant material, whether the Amazon Basin or our own hazy Blue Mountains, this a major step forward in understanding how plants interact with the atmosphere."

Explore further: Certain Arctic lakes store more greenhouse gases than they release

More information: Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1220712

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User comments : 12

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Lurker2358
1 / 5 (4) Aug 17, 2012
"The troposphere, or atmosphere closest to earth, contains 90 megatons of organic acids, which is twice as much as current climate models predict. Our new insight should now be taken into account in climate modelling."


I don't think it effects climate modeling at all, since they model the atmosphere "as is", but modify key factors like CO2, Methane, etc.

As long as the full amount of acid was taken into consideration in a computer model, it shouldn't matter too much where the acid was coming from, that is at least until a large number of plants start to die off for other reasons, but by then we probably don't care too much about this effect since we'll be dying for other reasons...
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (3) Aug 17, 2012
"it shouldn't matter too much where the acid was coming from, that is at least until a large number of plants start to die off for other reasons,"

http://en.wikiped...cid_rain
http://library.th...rain.htm
Sorry Lurker, but you're too late, it's been happening for years, all over the world. As a child, at my boarding school in the hills we had a wonderful view of the town in the plains-and of the acid damaged forest that lay between us and that town. That was how I learnt about the existence of acid damage. Entire forests get sick and eventually die. Where is it coming from? Industrial pollution is a major source. And that has been around for at least 150 years....
Best regards, DH66
Vendicar Dickarian
1.1 / 5 (12) Aug 17, 2012
Humor me here...am I the only one who gets a chuckle from the staunch enthusiasts on Physorg proclaiming one "warming" theory or other as absolutely correct?

As the authors point out, their findings should now be "taken into account".

How many millions (billions) of additional data points might change our fledgling understanding of Earth's ultra-complex atmosphere? I don't doubt we'll figure it all out at some future point, but I'm convinced we're not even remotely far down that path yet.
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (7) Aug 17, 2012
Sock Puppet Alert: The above Vendicar Dickarian is not Vendicar_Decarian. So, we have someone trying to stir up the forum by appearing to be someone else and stating a different point of view. Can't we just argue the science and not drop to the level of our politicians?
SatanLover
not rated yet Aug 17, 2012
are these atmospheric oils dangerous to life?
Vendicar Dickarian
1 / 5 (9) Aug 17, 2012
Sock Puppet Alert: The above Vendicar Dickarian is not Vendicar_Decarian. So, we have someone trying to stir up the forum by appearing to be someone else and stating a different point of view. Can't we just argue the science and not drop to the level of our politicians?


Hilarious on multiple levels. It's well known that I'm not that psycho you referenced, and I enjoy poking fun at him. But, this has not a thing to do with what I said. Nor does your reference to politics. Please go back and re-read my words, with attention to detail this time. They are wise and meaningful, so don't be surprised if you learn something. Hint: I was actually suggesting that we ONLY argue the science. The ACTUAL science. Not the guesswork.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (4) Aug 17, 2012
@ Lurker2358:

When you test a theory, you also test its constraints. In that sense earlier models, which predicted the climate reasonably well, predicted the then used level of acids. If it had been a serious mismatch, this had turned up earlier.

@ SatanLover:

They are neither dangerous nor healthy. Complicated aromatic oils from forests have been implicated as cancerogenous as well as creating local ozone, which can be dangerous. Ozone levels in forests never reach the threat level of some cities some days, IIRC.

Sock Puppet Alert:

Vendicar_Decarian is not psychotic, but a well reasoned and knowledgeable commenter here. Quite the contrary to Dick-ian who thinks AGW is not the current well tested and accepted climate science (ref: IPCC), or that you can place psychiatric diagnosis remotely and without expertise (ref: DSM), or that sock puppetry is okay.
sirchick
5 / 5 (4) Aug 17, 2012

and I enjoy poking fun at him. .


Perhaps its time you grew up then - making fun of random people on the internet is pretty low for any one who deems themselves an intellectual in the field of science.
SatanLover
4 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012

@ SatanLover:

They are neither dangerous nor healthy. Complicated aromatic oils from forests have been implicated as cancerogenous as well as creating local ozone, which can be dangerous. Ozone levels in forests never reach the threat level of some cities some days, IIRC.

ah ozone, the DNA oxynator. another problem with urban ozone is that it traps exhaust fumes from combustion increasing toxicity by many orders...
one of the reasons the global intelligence is dropping, smog, mercury and other pollutants.
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2012

@ SatanLover:

They are neither dangerous nor healthy. Complicated aromatic oils from forests have been implicated as cancerogenous as well as creating local ozone, which can be dangerous. Ozone levels in forests never reach the threat level of some cities some days, IIRC.

ah ozone, the DNA oxynator. another problem with urban ozone is that it traps exhaust fumes from combustion increasing toxicity by many orders...
one of the reasons the global intelligence is dropping, smog, mercury and other pollutants.

Last i heard Ozone was not a plant oil!
Shootist
1 / 5 (2) Aug 19, 2012
I don't think it effects climate modeling at all, since they model the atmosphere "as is", but modify key factors like CO2, Methane, etc.



All of the models are wrong.

Take any model. Plug in known data. Try to get the model to accurately "predict" the climate from 1900 to 2000. You cannot. They cannot. The models are nigh useless for predicting next week, next month next year or next century.

Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for western civilization as it commits suicide.
SatanLover
not rated yet Aug 19, 2012

@ SatanLover:

They are neither dangerous nor healthy. Complicated aromatic oils from forests have been implicated as cancerogenous as well as creating local ozone, which can be dangerous. Ozone levels in forests never reach the threat level of some cities some days, IIRC.

ah ozone, the DNA oxynator. another problem with urban ozone is that it traps exhaust fumes from combustion increasing toxicity by many orders...
one of the reasons the global intelligence is dropping, smog, mercury and other pollutants.

Last i heard Ozone was not a plant oil!

but plants release oxygen and uv oxygen is ozone.