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Study improves accuracy of models for predicting ozone levels in urban areas
Date:11/1/2010

A team of scientists has, for the first time, completely characterized an important chemical reaction that is critical to the formation of ground-level ozone in urban areas. The team's results indicate that computer models may be underestimating ozone levels in urban areas during episodes of poor air quality (smoggy days) by as much as five to 10 percent.

Ground level ozone poses significant health hazards to people, animals and plants; is the primary ingredient of smog; and gives polluted air its characteristic odor. It is known that even small increases in ozone concentrations can lead to increases in death from respiratory problems. Because of the health hazards caused by ozone exposure, the research team's results may have regulatory implications.

The team's research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and the California Air Resources Board CARB), appears in the October 29 issue of Science.

Big role of one reaction in predicting ozone in smoggy air

The reaction studied by the researchers plays an important role in controlling the efficiency of a sunlight-driven cycle of reactions that continuously generates ozone. In this reaction, a hydroxyl radical (OH) combines with nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is produced from emissions generated by vehicles, various industrial processes and some biological processes.

When a hydroxyl radical and nitrogen dioxide collide, these molecules may stick together to form a stable byproduct known as nitric acid (HONO2). Because of the stability of nitric acid, its formation locks up hydroxyl radicals and nitrogen dioxide, and thereby prevents these molecules from contributing to ozone formation; this reaction thereby slows the formation of ozone.

Although scientists have long recognized the importance of the formation of nitric acid, they have, until now, been unable to agree on the speed, or "rate," at which hydrogen radicals and n
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Contact: Lily Whiteman
lwhitema@nsf.gov
703-292-8310
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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