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The Atmosphere Has A Recycling Washing Machine

The atmosphere’s ability to recycle pollutants is being compared to a washing machine that can recycle the detergent from the wash cycle, and then use it again when the area needs a good cleaning.

Troposphere research specialists from the Institute of Energy and Climate Research in Jülich, Germany found that radicals are actually recycled in an atmospheric stage called isoprene degradation.

The researchers were able to effectively show that isoprene, a naturally occurring hydrocarbon, can be broken down, or cleansed, by hydroxyl radicals. These radicals are referred to as the atmosphere’s cleansing agents that are capable of reducing isoprene, which is largely produced from forest areas. Then hydroxyl radicals can go on to keep filtering and purifying the air of other gases and pollutants.

Scientists had thought that this was how the process operated, but until this examination had been unable to recreate how it specifically worked. It was initially thought that ridding the atmosphere of isoprene actually decreased the amount of hydroxyl radicals, but this demonstrates that it actually rejuvenates the radicals for reuse.

They were able to show this by reconstructing the atmosphere conditions above China and a tropical rainforest in a simulation chamber.

The Atmosphere Has A Recycling Washing Machine

Image source: Forschungszentrum Jülich from fz-juelich.de

They established that the atmosphere’s method for cleaning up increases its efficacy with rising air temperatures. Also, their work surprisingly showed that unlike other processes thought to apply to reducing isoprene, there is actually not as much of an ozone influence that affects the climate. They stated that this procedure helps to act as a natural barrier to fight off global warming and improve air quality.

Though the washing machine comparison makes it sound simple, clearly, ridding the atmosphere of pollutants is a little more high tech than laundry day and reusing old detergent.

This research provides a neat look into the atmosphere’s natural process for helping to keep itself clean.

The results were published in Nature Geoscience.

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