ENN: Environmental News Network -- Know Your Environment
From: Scott Sincoff, ENN
Published August 9, 2012 12:03 PM
New Discovery Linked To Climate Change and Human Health

A new atmospheric compound is connected to both climate change and human health issues. According to researchers at both the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Helsinki, this novel chemical combination in the Earth’s atmosphere has been tested to play a significant role in the field of climate and health.

This compound reacts with sulfuric dioxide to form sulfuric acid. The new composite was formed from a family of both natural and man-made hydrocarbons, known as alkenes. Sulfuric dioxide is mainly produced from the aftereffects by coal and other combusting fossil fuels at power plants.

According to Roy Mauldin III, a research associate at the University of Colorado Boulder's atmospheric and oceanic sciences department and lead study author, this was the first time this complex contact between the two compounds has been documented. Mauldin said that this is important to the field of environmental science because the end product of the combination, sulfuric acid, is the driving force of acid rain production in the atmosphere.

"Sulfuric acid plays an essential role in Earth's atmosphere, from the ecological impacts of acid precipitation to the formation of new aerosol particles, which have significant climatic and health effects," said Mauldin. "Our findings demonstrate a newly observed connection between the biosphere and atmospheric chemistry."

While conducting research, Mauldin and his team combined ozone with sulfur dioxide and various alkenes in a gas-analyzing apparatus known as a mass spectrometer. This instrument was then connected to a flow tube, which was there to provide additional gases to the compound within the experimental trials.

"We have discovered a new and important, atmospherically relevant oxidant," said Mauldin. "Sulfuric acid plays an essential role in Earth's atmosphere, from the ecological impacts of acid precipitation to the formation of new aerosol particles, which have significant climatic and health effects. Our findings demonstrate a newly observed connection between the biosphere and atmospheric chemistry."

A paper on this research has been published in the August 9, 2012 edition of Nature.

For more information on this subject, please visit: http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2012/08/08/cu-led-team-discov...

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Replies to This Discussion

Thanks for the information Steph! 

I haven't read the linked article yet, but I wonder what type of health concerns these  additional particles might cause?

The study charts a previously unknown chemical pathway for the formation of sulfuric acid, which can result both in increased acid rain and cloud formation as well as negative respiratory effects on humans.

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