Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Emission of smog ingredients from trees is increasing rapidly

29.09.2004


Changes in forestry and agriculture affecting ozone pollution

Changes in U.S. forests caused by land use practices may have inadvertently worsened ozone pollution, according to a study led by Princeton University scientists. The study examined a class of chemicals that are emitted as unburned fuel from automobile tailpipes and as vapors from industrial chemicals, but also come naturally from tree leaves. These chemicals, known collectively as VOCs, react with other pollutants to form ozone, a bluish, irritating and pungent gas that is a major form of smog in the lower atmosphere.

While clean-air laws have reduced the level of man-made VOCs (volatile organic compounds), the tree-produced varieties have increased dramatically in some parts of the country, the study found. The increase stems from intensified tree farming and other land use changes that have altered the mix of trees in the landscape, said Drew Purves, the lead author of the study that included scientists from four universities. "There are seemingly natural but ultimately anthropogenic (human-caused) processes in the landscape that have had larger effects on VOC emissions than the deliberate legislated decreases," said Purves.



Although scientists knew that trees contribute substantial amounts of VOCs to the atmosphere, the rate of increase in recent decades was previously unrecognized. "If we don’t understand what’s going on with biogenic (plant-produced) VOCs, we are not going to be able to weigh different air-quality strategies properly," said Purves. "It’s a big enough part of the puzzle that it really needs to go in there with the rest."

The study may help explain why ozone levels have not improved in some parts of the country as much as was anticipated with the enactment of clean-air laws, Purves said. Environmental technologies such as catalytic converters and hoses that collect fumes at gas pumps have substantially reduced human-produced VOCs. However, in some parts of the country -- particularly the area extending from Alabama up through the Tennessee Valley and Virginia -- these improvements may have been outweighed by increased VOC emissions from forests, mainly because of tree growth in abandoned farmland and increases in plantation forestry.

Purves emphasized that cutting the human-caused sources may have been worthwhile even if ozone levels did not decrease. "Even keeping the air quality the same might have been an achievement because if we hadn’t done anything it might have worsened," said Purves.

The study did not measure actual ozone levels. Instead it focused on VOCs, a crucial part of the chemical reaction that produces ozone. The other critical ingredient is a class of gasses known as NOx (various combinations of nitrogen and oxygen), which are almost entirely man-made. The ozone-producing reaction happens most readily in hot weather, which is also when trees produce the most VOCs.

Further studies at Princeton and the federal Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab at Princeton are using sophisticated computer models to estimate the changes in ozone caused by the changes in tree-produced VOCs. Purves noted that interactions between VOCs, NOx and ozone are complex -- some may actually lower pollution -- so it would be premature to base environmental policy on studies of VOCs alone.

Purves, a postdoctoral fellow, wrote the article in collaboration with Stephen Pacala, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, as well as John Casperson of the University of Toronto, Paul Moorcroft of Harvard University and George Hurtt of the University of New Hampshire. The article is scheduled to be published later this fall in the journal Global Change Biology.

The scientists conducted the study by analyzing data collected by the U.S. Forest Service, which measured and cataloged 2.7 million trees on 250,000 plots of land across the country. They calculated the VOC emissions for each tree and each plot and used their findings to map VOC levels nationally. The scientists compared survey data taken in the 1980s with those taken in the 1990s to determine how levels were changing over time.

They found that areas where farmland has been abandoned during the last century have early generations of trees that produce higher levels of VOCs than older growth forests. In the South, pine plantations used for their fast-growing supplies of timber have proven to be havens for sweetgum trees, which are major producers of VOCs. Indeed, virtually every tree that grows fast -- a desirable quality for forestry production -- is a heavy emitter of VOCs. "It’s just one of those biological correlations," said Purves. "What you want is a fast-growing tree that doesn’t produce a lot of VOCs, but that doesn’t seem to exist."

The findings also could raise questions about potential strategies for developing "green" fuels. One idea for cutting greenhouse gas emissions is to create "biofuels" from renewable tree plantations; however, these plantations may lead to increased ozone levels, the authors note.

The findings lend support to proposals among environmentalists to shift attention to regulating NOx, the other main ingredient for ozone. They also underscore the pervasive effect of human activities on the environment, because something as seemingly benign as planting forests can have a substantial impact. "You can’t identify any of these processes as ’natural,’" said Purves. "The idea of natural versus human-caused is disappearing. Ten years from now, woodlands may have more of one species than another, and you could call that natural change. But here in New Jersey, the mix of trees is affected by the population of deer, and they are entirely under our control. In other parts of the country, it is the fire-suppression policies."

Noting President Ronald Reagan’s notorious 1980 reference to trees causing pollution (Reagan said: "Approximately 80 percent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation."), the authors conclude: "The results reported here call for a wider recognition that an understanding of recent, current and anticipated changes in biogenic VOC emissions is necessary to guide future air-quality policy decisions; they do not provide any evidence that responsibility for air pollution can or should be shifted from humans to trees."

Steven Schultz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.princeton.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product
02.12.2016 | Purdue University

nachricht New findings about the deformed wing virus, a major factor in honey bee colony mortality
11.11.2016 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

Im Focus: Repairing defects in fiber-reinforced plastics more efficiently

Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.

Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Multiregional brain on a chip

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

New technology enables 5-D imaging in live animals, humans

16.01.2017 | Information Technology

Researchers develop environmentally friendly soy air filter

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>