Scientists are taking a step closer to understanding what controls the fine particles in the Earth's atmosphere, after identifying new relationships between natural pollutants and artificial pollutants.
A good particle is an air pollutant that can adversely affect human health when air levels are too high and can affect the climate.
The breakthrough can lead to stronger, more precisely climate-related legislation and cleaner air, researchers say. The international team, led by the University of Manchester and Forschungszentrum Jülichhung in Germany, examined the impact of the average organic aerosol (SOA) in our air.
SOA consists of extremely small particles and is made in the atmosphere of natural and artificial emissions. They are produced through complex interactions between sunlight and volatile organic compounds of trees, plants, cars or industrial emissions.
These small particles seriously affect the physical and mental health of people and are the main contributor to the premature deaths of about 5.5 million people worldwide every year. The impact of these particles on the climate is also responsible for the largest insufficient contribution to the effect on the radiation balance that affects climate change.
The international team is studying the formation of fine SOA particles from various vapors emitted from natural plants and from mixtures of human and natural vapors that react in the laboratory. In all cases, they found that a smaller particle mass was made when the same amount of steam reacted in a mixture than when it was reacted independently.
Leading author, Professor Gordon McFhivens, from the Manchester School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, explains: "It has long been recognized that we should consider the whole blend of vapor when predicting the amount of secondary pollutants such as ozone.
"Our findings now show that we also need to know which compounds with natural traces and natural elements are present in the right atmosphere in order to measure particle pollution."
The study is the first study of its kind to consider the impact of these complex vapor mixtures on the concentration of atmospheric particles.
Professor Thomas Mentel, a co-author of the FSJ, added: "By carefully designing the experiment, we managed to understand two different ways that the amount of formed particles was reduced in the mixture. We found that trace compounds do not compete only with the reactant, but also the products of these reactions may react to prevent the effective formation of particles.
"With the inclusion of this experimentally observed effect in the global air quality model, we have shown that the mass of fine particles can be significantly affected under real atmospheric conditions, and not just those in the laboratory."
This monitored quantification of the interaction between particulate evaporation gives the first view of how pollutants will communicate in the complex mixtures found in the right atmosphere.
Professor McFhiggins concluded: "Our work provides a roadmap for understanding the future contributions of particles to the quality of air and climate. By including these results and those from further experiments in numerical models, we will be able to give real advice to policymakers."