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Plants play larger role than thought in cleaning up air pollution
Date:10/21/2010

Vegetation plays an unexpectedly large role in cleansing the atmosphere, a new study finds.

The research, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., uses observations, gene expression studies, and computer modeling to show that deciduous plants absorb about a third more of a common class of air-polluting chemicals than previously thought.

The new study, results of which are being published this week in Science Express, was conducted with co-authors from the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Arizona. It was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's sponsor.

"Plants clean our air to a greater extent than we had realized," says NCAR scientist Thomas Karl, the lead author. "They actively consume certain types of air pollution."

The research team focused on a class of chemicals known as oxygenated volatile organic compounds (oVOCs), which can have long-term impacts on the environment and human health.

"The team has made significant progress in understanding the complex interactions between plants and the atmosphere," says Anne-Marie Schmoltner of NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research.

The compounds form in abundance in the atmosphere from hydrocarbons and other chemicals that are emitted from both natural sources--including plants--and sources related to human activities, including vehicles and construction materials.

The compounds help shape atmospheric chemistry and influence climate.

Eventually, some oVOCs evolve into tiny airborne particles, known as aerosols, that have important effects on both clouds and human health.

By measuring oVOC levels in a number of ecosystems in the United States and other countries, the researchers determined that deciduous plants appear to be taking up the compounds at an unexpectedly fast rate--as much as f
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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