The importance of aerosol research: A Q&A with Alex Guenther

December 23, 2013

Alex Guenther is a renowned atmospheric and ecosystem scientist, as well as a Laboratory Fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and lead scientist for atmospheric aerosol science at EMSL. He recently took time while traveling in Brazil to answer some questions about the importance of atmospheric aerosol studies.

Here's what he had to say:

Q.Why is the scientific understanding of aerosols important?

A. The scattering and absorbing of light by , and also by clouds that are modified by aerosols, impacts the Earth's radiation balance resulting in cooling (from scattering) or warming (from absorbing) at the Earth surface. Aerosols can also degrade visibility and are harmful to human health.

Q. How will a greater understanding of aerosols improve climate models?

A. Predictive need to include numerical representations of the relevant processes that influence . This means we need to understand aerosols well enough to account for their role in climate with numerical model code that calculates their impact on the Earth's radiative balance.

Q. What are the societal implications of aerosol research?

A. Aerosol research improves the numerical models decision makers use to develop strategies for sustainable development and to balance energy needs with the need for a stable environment.

Q. What is EMSL's role in aerosol research?

A. EMSL research provides a fundamental understanding of the molecular scale processes that determine production, evolution and fate. This knowledge forms the basis for the numerical algorithms and parameterizations in climate models.

Q. What is the next major milestone in aerosol research?

A. I view the next major milestone as identifying the specific molecules within organic aerosol responsible for absorption of light and characterizing the processes responsible for their formation and properties.

Q. What are the science priorities of aerosol research in the next five to 10 years?

A. It's critical that the scientific community develop a molecular-scale understanding of the processes that enhance the formation of biogenic organic emissions – those produced by living organisms – and determine the radiative properties of organic aerosols to improve the accuracy of climate model simulations.

Q. How does aerosol research support the mission of the Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research?

A. It addresses BER Atmospheric System Research programmatic goals by building a physical understanding and an accurate representation of the important aerosol-cloud-precipitation processes that drive precipitation and the atmospheric radiation balance. The research is key to advancing BER priorities by successfully incorporating this understanding of aerosols into regional and global climate models.

Q. How do EMSL users fit into the aerosol research being done at EMSL?

A. Users have historically utilized some EMSL capabilities to enhance their atmospheric research. Recently, they've been considering how they can apply other EMSL tools and expertise not previously used by the atmospheric community – this opens the possibility of new and innovative discoveries. In addition, input from users helps determine future capabilities for EMSL to drive high-impact science.

Explore further: Understanding the impact of brown carbon on climate

Related Stories

Understanding the impact of brown carbon on climate

December 23, 2013

If you've ever flown into a major metropolitan area and noticed haze hovering over the city, then you've seen brown carbon aerosols. While most people are familiar with the visual impact of brown carbon, scientists are learning ...

The brass ring of climate modeling

August 5, 2013

Finding a simple way to express complex climate processes is the ultimate prize. Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, University of Leeds, Colorado State University, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ...

Anthropogenic aerosols increasing over India

November 5, 2013

Aerosol particles in the Earth's atmosphere scatter and absorb light differently at different wavelengths, thereby affecting the amount of incoming sunlight that reaches the planet's surface and the amount of heat that escapes, ...

Aerosol-cloud interactions may predict climate change

December 4, 2013

( —University of Arizona researcher Armin Sorooshian and his research team are on a mission to find missing pieces of an atmospheric puzzle that will help scientists better understand aerosol-cloud interactions ...

CERN's CLOUD experiment shines new light on climate change

October 7, 2013

( —In a paper published today in the journal Nature, the CLOUD experiment at CERN reports a major advance towards solving a long-standing enigma in climate science: how do aerosols - tiny solid or liquid particles ...

Recommended for you

New hope for limiting warming to 1.5 C

September 18, 2017

Significant emission reductions are required if we are to achieve one of the key goals of the Paris Agreement, and limit the increase in global average temperatures to 1.5°C; a new Oxford University partnership warns.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Dec 24, 2013
...and are harmful to human health. You got one thing right!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.