A team of Greek and German researchers has shown that the colours of sunsets painted by famous artists can be used to estimate pollution levels in the Earth’s past atmosphere.
In particular, the paintings reveal that ash and gas released during major volcanic eruptions scatter the different colours of sunlight, making sunsets appear more red. The results are published today in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).
The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks, by J. M. W. Turner
This work, obtained from WikiPaintings, is in the public domain
When the Tambora volcano in Indonesia erupted in 1815, painters in Europe could see the colours of the sky changing. The volcanic ash and gas spewed into the atmosphere travelled the world and, as these aerosol particles scattered sunlight, they produced bright red and orange sunsets in Europe for up to three years after the eruption.
J. M. W. Turner was one of the artists who painted the stunning sunsets during that time. Now, scientists are using his, and other great masters’, paintings to retrieve information on the composition of the past atmosphere.
“Nature speaks to the hearts and souls of great artists,” says lead-author Christos Zerefos, a professor of atmospheric physics at the Academy of Athens in Greece. “But we have found that, when colouring sunsets, it is the way their brains perceive greens and reds that contains important environmental information.”
Zerefos and his team analysed hundreds of high-quality digital photographs of sunset paintings done between 1500 and 2000, a period including over 50 large volcanic eruptions around the globe. They were looking to find out whether the relative amounts of red and green along the horizon of each painting could provide information on the amount of aerosols in the atmosphere.
“We found that red-to-green ratios measured in the sunsets of paintings by great masters correlate well with the amount of volcanic aerosols in the atmosphere, regardless of the painters and of the school of painting,” says Zerefos.
Skies more polluted by volcanic ash scatter sunlight more, so they appear more red. Similar effects are seen with mineral (desert dust) or man-made aerosols. Air with a higher amount of aerosols has a higher ‘aerosol optical depth’, a parameter the team calculated using the red-to-green ratios in the paintings. They then compared these values with those given by independent proxies such as ice-core and volcanic-explosivity data, and found good agreement. The results obtained validate those of the team’s previous study, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in 2007.
To further support their model, the researchers asked a famous colourist to paint sunsets during and after the passage of a Saharan dust cloud over the island of Hydra in June 2010. The painter was not aware of the dust event. The scientists then compared measurements of the aerosol optical depth made by modern instruments with those estimated from the red-to-green ratios of the paintings and of digital photographs, and found that they all matched well.
Since aerosols scatter sunlight, less of it reaches the surface, leading to cooling. The Tambora eruption, the largest in recorded history, killed some 10,000 people directly and over 60,000 more due to the starvation and disease during the ‘volcanic winter’ that followed. Aerosol optical depth can be directly used in climate models, so having estimates for this parameter helps researchers understand how aerosols have affected the Earth’s climate in the past. This, in turn, can help improve predictions of future climate change.
“We wanted to provide alternative ways of exploiting the environmental information in the past atmosphere in places where, and in centuries when, instrumental measurements were not available,” concludes Zerefos.
Please mention the name of the publication (Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics) if reporting on this story and, if reporting online, include a link to the paper (TBA) or to the journal website (http://www.atmospheric-chemistry-and-physics.net/).
This research is presented in the paper ‘Further evidence of important environmental information content in red-to-green ratios as depicted in paintings by great masters’ to appear in the EGU open access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics on 25 March 2014.
The scientific article is available online, free of charge, from the publication date onwards, at http://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/recent_papers.html. To obtain a copy of the paper before the publication date, please email Bárbara Ferreira at email@example.com.
The discussion paper (before peer review) and reviewers’ comments are available at http://www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.net/13/33145/2013/acpd-13-33145-2013.html
The team is composed of C. S. Zerefos (Academy of Athens, Athens, Greece &Navarino Environmental Observatory [NEO], Messinia, Greece), P. Tetsis (Academy of Athens), A. Kazantzidis (Laboratory of Atmospheric Physics, Physics Department, University of Patras, Greece), V. Amiridis (Institute of Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Application and Remote Sensing, National Observatory of Athens, Greece), S. C. Zerefos (Hellenic Open University, Patras, Greece), J. Luterbacher (University of Giessen, Germany), K. Eleftheratos (Faculty of Geology and Geoenvironment, University of Athens, Greece), E. Gerasopoulos (NEO & Institute of Environmental Research and Sustainable Development [IERSD], National Observatory of Athens, Greece), S. Kazadzis (IERSD), and A. Papayannis (National Technical University of Athens, Athens, Greece).
The European Geosciences Union (www.egu.eu) is Europe’s premier geosciences union, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. It is a non-profit interdisciplinary learned association of scientists founded in 2002. The EGU has a current portfolio of 16 diverse scientific journals, which use an innovative open access format, and organises a number of topical meetings, and education and outreach activities. Its annual General Assembly is the largest and most prominent European geosciences event, attracting over 11,000 scientists from all over the world. The meeting’s sessions cover a wide range of topics, including volcanology, planetary exploration, the Earth’s internal structure and atmosphere, climate, energy, and resources. The 2014 EGU General Assembly is taking place is Vienna, Austria from 27 April to 2 May 2014. For information regarding the press centre at the meeting and media registration, please check http://media.egu.eu.
If you wish to receive our press releases via email, please use the Press Release Subscription Form at http://www.egu.eu/news/subscribe/. Subscribed journalists and other members of the media receive EGU press releases under embargo (if applicable) 24 hours in advance of public dissemination.
Member of the Academy of Athens & Professor of Atmospheric Physics
Academy of Athens, Greece
Tel: +30-210-8832048 (contact Bárbara Ferreira for Zerefos' mobile number)
EGU Media and Communications Manager
Dr. Bárbara Ferreira | European Geosciences Union
Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union
UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences