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Air pollution can chemically transform organic vapors in the atmosphere

Dec. 14 (UPI) — Scientists are only just beginning to understand the complex ways new aerosol particles form in the atmosphere. New research suggests human-caused air pollution can impact the conversion of organic gasses into aerosols.

All ecosystems, including wetlands, forests and mountain streams, emit organic compounds into the atmosphere, but only a few of these compounds are known to react with atmospheric gases to form particles, or aerosols.

When researchers monitored particle formation in the lab, they found aerosols formed most efficiently when sulfuric acid, ammonia and organic vapors were all present. Increased nitrogen oxide levels were associated with lower rates of aerosol formation.

Researchers designed their lab conditions to mimic the atmosphere above the Finnish boreal forest.

“We wanted to create the boreal forest atmosphere in our chamber,” Katrianne Lehtipalo from the University of Helsinki said in a news release. “Particle formation is a delicate process, and it took us a while to find the correct gas mixture, but in the end we were able to replicate atmospheric observations almost perfectly.”

Because aerosols scatter sunlight and can encourage cloud formation, climate scientists are keen to understand aerosol-cloud-climate interactions.

The latest research — published today in the journal Science Advances — suggests reductions in air pollution could curb aerosol formation, altering certain climate patterns. The new findings could help scientists design more accurate climate models.

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