Human activities are not the only source of aerosol particles, however. Trees and other vegetation also release VOCs that produce secondary aerosols through sunlight-driven chemistry, and in very large amounts. It is these aerosols, for example, that are responsible for the blue smokiness of the Great Smoky Mountains. Like their human-made counterparts, these natural aerosols affect air quality and also have significant impacts on the climate.
A new study conducted by researchers at Caltech is revealing for the first time key details about how the VOCs released by trees are transformed into aerosols through atmospheric chemistry. The paper describing the research, which appears in the journal Science, was a collaborative effort among the labs of John Seinfeld, the Louis E. Nohl Professor of Chemical Engineering; Paul Wennberg, the R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering; and Brian Stoltz, the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry and Heritage Medical Research Institute investigator. [Caltech story]