Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mystery solved: How fine particulates are formed in the air

Date:
December 29, 2009
Source:
Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI)
Summary:
Particulates make us ill, and particulates affect the climate. The direct combustion of wood and other fuels is only partially responsible for producing fine particulates – the rest evolve from a variety of substances, within the atmosphere itself.

PSI scientists Urs Baltensperger and Andr้ Pr้v๔t with the mass spectrometer that made new insights into the creation of particulates in the atmosphere possible.
Credit: Image courtesy of Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI)

A huge variety of chemical processes takes place on a continuous basis in the atmosphere; large molecules may be disintegrating to form smaller molecules, and small molecules may be coming together to form larger units, attaching themselves to small airborne particles. However, the important changes taking place within organic matter in the atmosphere can be understood without following every single one of the many thousands of substances present in the air.

Researchers were able to demonstrate that they only needed to investigate those few specific chemical properties that are particularly significant to the atmospheric behaviour of the substances. "For example, the ratio of oxygen to carbon in a substance affects its ability to absorb water -- and is therefore relevant to the ability of fine particulates to seed clouds," explains Andr้ Pr้v๔t, who leads the project at the Paul Scherrer Institute.

Development of fine particulates reconstructed in lab

The constant chemical changes taking place in the atmosphere also mean that the composition of fine particulates is similar in almost every corner of the world -- regardless of the precise source materials. However, researchers demonstrated that the properties of particular source materials can be recreated from the fine particulates. To do this, they initially used the smog chamber at the Paul Scherrer Institute to simulate the changes within individual materials in the atmosphere.

"We were able to use these results in conjunction with a complex statistical process to determine the type of source materials from which the fine particulates had originated. Additional procedures, such as the C14 method, can then be used to establish the exact sources -- whether, for example, substances come from woodland or from exhaust gases," explains Urs Baltensperger, Head of the Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory at the Paul Scherrer Institute.

Fine particulates at different locations: a hazard to health or seeding for cloud formation

The detailed investigations into the make-up of the fine particulates were made possible by a novel type of device -- a special mass spectrometer -- which can be used to analyse the composition of the air with a time resolution of one minute. The researchers took measurements at 26 different sites in the northern hemisphere. PSI was responsible for two very different locations in Switzerland: Zurich's inner city and the Jungfraujoch -- in the Swiss Alps at 3450 meters. The Zurich measurements were important primarily from the point of view of the effect of gaseous emissions on health, while the measurements on the Jungfraujoch concentrated on issues involving cloud formation.

The work of the PSI researchers was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J.L. Jimenez, M.R. Canagaratna, N.M. Donahue, A.S.H. Prevot et al. Evolution of Organic Aerosols in the Atmosphere. Science, December 11, 2009 DOI: 10.1126/science.1180353

Cite This Page:

Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI). "Mystery solved: How fine particulates are formed in the air." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 December 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091215172327.htm>.
Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI). (2009, December 29). Mystery solved: How fine particulates are formed in the air. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091215172327.htm
Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI). "Mystery solved: How fine particulates are formed in the air." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091215172327.htm (accessed April 19, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) — Operators of recreational businesses on western reservoirs worry that ongoing drought concerns will keep boaters and other visitors from flocking to the popular summer attractions. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — Andy Dixon showed the Daily Mail a screenshot of what he believes to be the mythical beast swimming just below the lake's surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — An Arkansas man has found a nearly 6.2-carat diamond, which he dubbed "The Limitless Diamond," at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins