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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Unexpected information about Earth's climate history from Yellow River sediment
09.10.2015 | Uppsala University
09.10.2015 | Schweizerischer Nationalfonds SNF
Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.
To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...
The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.
As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...
Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.
Inspired by insects
An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...
At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...
01.10.2015 | Event News
30.09.2015 | Event News
17.09.2015 | Event News
09.10.2015 | Earth Sciences
09.10.2015 | Life Sciences
09.10.2015 | Life Sciences