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New approach to emissions makes climate and air quality models more accurate, major study finds
Date:12/10/2009

It's no secret that the emissions leaving a car tailpipe or factory smokestack affect climate and air quality. Even trees release chemicals that influence the atmosphere. But until now, scientists have struggled to know where these organic molecules go and what happens to them once they leave their source, leading to models for predicting climate and air quality that are incomplete or less than accurate.

A major collaborative effort of more than 60 scientists led by Jose-Luis Jimenez, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has discovered common ground in the jumble of organic material floating through the skies. The finding presents a workable solution that will improve the speed and accuracy of prediction models used to understand how these aerosols affect climate and human health, said Jimenez, also a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES.

"We're providing a key piece of machinery that is needed to make accurate predictions of air quality and climate and that is also relatively simple and practical to use," said Jimenez, lead author of the study that appears in the Dec. 11 issue of Science. CIRES is a joint institute of CU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Organic compounds coat airborne particles like a lacquer of spray paint and make up as much as 90 percent of all fine particle mass aloft in the atmosphere. These particles influence cloud formation and subsequent rainfall. They also affect human health and can lead to illnesses like asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.

But so far only about 10 to 30 percent of the thousands of individual compounds have been identified, and past research has focused on following specific molecules with the idea that these compounds remain relatively static in nature once they enter the atmosphere. Recent discoveries show that the life cycle of these compounds is much more comple
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Contact: Jose-Luis Jimenez
Jose.Jimenez@Colorado.edu
303-492-3557
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert

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