Increasing energy demands and expanding industrial and agricultural activities worldwide are changing the composition of the atmosphere and contributing to major global challenges like climate change and air pollution. The study of atmospheric chemistry plays a key role in understanding and responding to these challenges, and research in this field has been successful in guiding policies to improve air quality in urban areas and reduce acid rain and stratospheric ozone depletion. To advance the understanding of atmospheric chemistry and improve its research infrastructure, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine proposes priorities and strategic steps for the field in the next decade.
Atmospheric chemistry explores the chemical composition of the atmosphere, sources of gases and particles, and fundamental chemical transformations in the atmosphere, and applies this knowledge to analyze how the composition of air responds to changing human and natural inputs. Over the past three decades, the understanding and investigation of atmospheric chemistry through field work, theory, laboratory experiments, and modeling have improved tremendously. This report addresses the rationale and continuing need for a comprehensive and broadly based research program in atmospheric chemistry.
"We are seeing a deliberate shift in the field of atmospheric chemistry," said Robert Duce, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University and co-chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. "The field must fully embrace its dual role -- observing, learning, and discovering for the sake of fundamentally understanding the Earth system and its underlying chemical, physical and biological processes, while also making major contributions to addressing those challenges that directly affect society."
One of the major goals for the field, the report says, is to anticipate and prepare for environmental challenges rather than just reacting to them. The report recommends the development of an effective predictive capability as a top priority for the atmospheric chemistry community -- drawing information from data and utilizing it to anticipate environmental changes. This predictive capability can provide foresight into the consequences of rapid changes in the Earth system, and will help in preparation and decision making.
"Atmospheric chemistry research alone will not solve the challenges of global climate change or the impacts of air pollution on human and ecosystem health, but these challenges will not be solved without the knowledge that comes from this research," said Barbara J. Finlayson-Pitts, professor of chemistry at University of California, Irvine, and co-chair of the committee.
Materials provided by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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