Pollution’s sulfuric acid not needed to make cloud-seeding particles in the air
The cooling effect of pollution may have been exaggerated.
Fossil fuel burning spews sulfuric acid into the air, where it can form airborne particles that seed clouds and cool Earth’s climate. But that’s not the only way these airborne particles can form, three new studies suggest. Tree vapors can turn into cooling airborne particles, too.
The discovery means these particles were more abundant before the Industrial Revolution than previously thought. Climate scientists have therefore overestimated cooling caused by air pollution, says atmospheric chemist Urs Baltensperger, who coauthored the three studies.
Simulating unpolluted air in a cloud chamber, Baltensperger and colleagues created microscopic particles from vapors released by trees. In the real world, cosmic rays whizzing into the atmosphere foster the development of these particles, the researchers propose in the May 26 Nature