Last Pure Air Particles on Earth Captured for Climate Science

amazon rainforest canopy photo

Photo via MyFavoritePetSitter via Flickr Creative Commons

In order to know what the emissions and pollution created since the industrial revolution have really done to our air quality, researchers need to know what the air was like before we discovered our affinity for factories. To do that, they have to scout out the last places on earth where the air has stayed unaffected by everything we've pumped into it. It sounds like an impossible task, but researchers have found a spot above the Amazon Basin of Manaus that seems to fit the bill. They've gone about bottling the last pure air on the planet, and have made some interesting new discoveries about what clean air is really like.Their findings, published in Science Magazine, state that the Amazon is one of the very last places where air has been left unharmed by human influences, and if captured during the wet season, the conditions are the same as before the industrial era. By learning more about how this air differs from that above our more polluted cities and roadways, the researchers can uncover how cloud formation is altered when pollution is present, and how deforestation will impact life on earth. This is essentially the first time pure air has been captured.

Leader of the research Scot Martin explained to i09, "We basically had two 'travel' days worth of pure air movement over 1,600 kilometers before the air came to our measurement site. By performing the study in the rainy season of central Amazonia (January-March), we avoided contamination. Well-known periods of burning and deforestation occur in the dry season and also largely on the southern edge of Amazonia."

The article also points out a surprising find about the composition of the air:

Intriguingly, the particles may be set to overturn some basic assumptions about how atmospheres are put together. Much to the researchers' surprise, droplets created from the oxidation of plants comprised a massive 85% of all the particles in the system, which is completely different from industrialized atmospheric conditions, not to mention what we find in natural marine environments. This could mean the natural interactions between aerosols and these droplets, known as secondary organic particles, is totally different from what scientists previously thought, because we had based all our assumptions on essentially industrial environments.

Analyzing the trapped particles can lead us to new insights about how we have changed the atmosphere over the last 200 years, which leads to more accurate modeling of what we might expect in terms of weather and climate in the future. Accurate climate modeling -- or predicting what will happen if we do X, Y or Z -- is extremely important for making key decisions in everything from climate policies on an international scale to urban planning along shorelines and waterways. Researchers just got their hands on new climate modeling software, but every bit of information that can improve accuracy is good news.

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