Research Finds Vapors From Coniferous Trees Could Help Slow Global Warming
Pine forests are especially magical places for atmospheric chemists. Coniferous trees give off pine-scented vapors that form particles, very quickly and seemingly out of nowhere.
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New research by German, Finnish and U.S. scientists elucidates the process by which gas wafting from coniferous trees creates particles that can reflect sunlight or promote cloud formation, both important climate feedbacks. The study is published Feb. 27 in Nature.
“In many forested regions, you can go and observe particles apparently form from thin air. They’re not emitted from anything, they just appear,” said Joel Thornton, a University of Washington associate professor of atmospheric sciences and second author on the paper.
The study shows the chemistry behind these particles’ formation, and estimates they may be the dominant source of aerosols over boreal forests. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has named aerosols generally one of the biggest unknowns for climate change.
Scientists have known for decades that gases from pine trees can form particles that grow from just one nanometer in size to 100 nanometers in about a day. These airborne solid or liquid particles can reflect sunlight, and at 100 nanometers they are large enough to condense water vapor and prompt cloud formation.
In the new paper, researchers took measurements in Finnish pine forests and then simulated the same particle formation in an air chamber at Germany’s Jülich Research Centre. A new type of chemical mass spectrometry let researchers pick out one in a trillion molecules and follow their evolution.
Results showed that when a pine-scented molecule combines with ozone in the surrounding air, some of the resulting free radicals grab oxygen with unprecedented speed.
“The radical is so desperate to become a regular molecule again that it reacts with itself," Thornton said. "The new oxygen breaks off a hydrogen from a neighboring carbon to keep for itself, and then more oxygen comes in to where the hydrogen was broken off.”
Current chemistry would predict that three to five oxygen molecules could be added per day during oxidation, Thornton said. But researchers observed the free radical adding 10 to 12 oxygen molecules in a single step. This new, bigger molecule wants to be in a solid or liquid state, rather than gas, and condenses onto small particles of just three nanometers. Researchers found so many of these molecules are produced that they can clump together and grow to a size big enough to influence climate.
“I think unravelling that chemistry is going to have some profound impacts on how we describe atmospheric chemistry generally,” Thornton said.
Boreal or coniferous forests give off the largest amount of these compounds, so the finding is especially relevant for the northern parts of North America, Europe and Russia. Other types of forests emit similar vapors, Thornton said, and he believes the rapid oxidation may apply to a broad range of atmospheric compounds.
“I think a lot of missing puzzle pieces in atmospheric chemistry will start to fall into place once we incorporate this understanding,” Thornton said.
Forests are thought to emit exponentially more of these scented compounds as temperatures rise. Understanding how those vapors react could help to predict how forested regions will respond to global warming, and what role they will play in the planet’s response.
In related work, Thornton’s group was part of a campaign last summer to study air chemistry over the Southeastern U.S., where aerosols formed by reforested areas or from pollution could help explain why that region has not warmed as much as other places.
“It’s thought that as the Earth warms there will be more of these vapors emitted, and some fraction of them will be converted to particles which can potentially shade the Earth’s surface,” Thornton said. “How effective that is at temperature regulation is still very much an open question.”
The 33 co-authors also include Felipe Lopez-Hilfiker and Ben Lee, both at the University of Washington, and researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the Institute for Tropospheric Research in Germany, Aerodyne Research Inc. in Massachusetts and Tampere University of Technology in Finland.
The research was funded by the European Research Council, Academy of Finland Center of Excellence, U.S. Department of Energy and the Emil Aaltonen Foundation.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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On Jan. 24 the White House welcomed two new residents: Champ and Major, the newly minted first dogs of the United States. The first dogs are poised to offer special benefits to workers in the White House.
Promoting Well-Being<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUzNjM4OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NDQxNTg1MX0.3wAaMwHIdVaRh9cIyfTesDpQMK0Pwg9nyUNCtfuTuCU/img.jpg?width=980" id="443d8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4cb3d440ff15ab78cd8309e1ca58050f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1120" data-height="746" />
Presidential pup Major Biden stretches his legs on the White House lawn. Adam Schultz / Official White House photo<p>These benefits explain why many workplaces – from <a href="https://thebark.com/content/barks-directory-best-dog-friendly-companies" target="_blank">Amazon to Zygna</a> – have begun welcoming dogs into their offices. Recent research suggests that dogs in the workplace can lead to <a href="http://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2019.00138" target="_blank">increased worker engagement, lower employee turnover</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0021943605277399" target="_blank">greater work satisfaction</a> and even enhanced employee <a href="https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010089" target="_blank">cohesion and communication</a>.</p><p><span></span>The Oval Office, the site of momentous decisions, enormous stress and complex social dynamics, may benefit from dogs even more than typical workplaces. After all, stress can compromise <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.02.003" target="_blank">decision-making</a> and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051117174336.htm" target="_blank">problem-solving abilities</a>. Pets can alleviate stress, however, dampening these effects and leading to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1161/hyp.38.4.815" target="_blank">improved performance on difficult tasks</a>.</p><p>Not only do people <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2019.1550280" target="_blank">report feeling less workplace stress around dogs</a>, but their very bodies tend to support this claim. A growing area of research suggests human <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-013-9546-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heart rates slow, levels of the stress hormone cortisol shrink</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.5694/j.1326-5377.1992.tb137178.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">blood pressure decreases</a> when people hang out with dogs. Interestingly, the positive effects of pups on stress levels exceed that of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1097/01.psy.0000024236.11538.41" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">even a close friend or family member</a>: A dog will reduce your stress more than your spouse or best friend will. After all, dogs are <a href="https://theconversation.com/your-dogs-nose-knows-no-bounds-and-neither-does-its-love-for-you-148484" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">naturally inclined to love you unconditionally</a> and will never find fault with the way you slurp your soup.</p><p>Dogs may reduce stress because they <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-right-balance/201804/how-dogs-drive-emotional-well-being" target="_blank">provide social support</a>. You may feel supported by your pooch, in part, because of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1261022" target="_blank">oxytocin feedback loop between humans and dogs</a>. Oxytocin, a hormone involved in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0079-6123(08)00427-5" target="_blank">promoting social bonds</a>, is released in both dogs and humans when <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dog-gazes-hijack-brains-maternal-bonding-system-180955019" target="_blank">gazing into each other's eyes</a>.</p><p>People report <a href="https://doi.org/10.2752/089279306785593928" target="_blank">improved mood</a>, <a href="https://news.ubc.ca/2018/03/12/sit-stay-heal-study-finds-therapy-dogs-help-stressed-university-students/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increased happiness and greater energy levels</a> around dogs. And, on the flip side, they enjoy reduced feelings of <a href="https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2018/How-Dogs-Can-Help-with-Depression" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depression</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2007.11.007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">loneliness</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024506" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">negativity</a> when dogs are present.</p>
Creating Connection<p>Given dogs' skill at providing these supports and boosting mood, it may not surprise you to learn they work their magic not only one on one, but also in group settings. In the presence of a dog, people in groups have <a href="https://doi.org/10.2752/089279304785643203" target="_blank">better social interactions, engage in more conversations</a> and are more likely to form <a href="http://doi.org/10.1163/156853007X169333" target="_blank">long-term friendships</a> with one another.</p>
President Clinton and President Chirac of France showing Buddy some love in 1999. National Archives and Records Administration<p>The effects of dogs as social lubricants can go further: Dogs even foster development of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1348/000712600161673" target="_blank">social support networks</a> among their humans, leading to a sense of community, and more social interactions between people in their vicinity. These engagements offer opportunities for even more social support in high-stress environments. And perhaps most importantly, <a href="https://doi.org/10.2752/175303708X371564" target="_blank">people are more likely to offer help</a> when a dog is present.</p><p>Having Champ and Major in the White House may help President Biden and his staff navigate the stresses and tensions of the current political landscape. Beyond "indogurations," tweets and cute photo ops, Champ and Major will offer physical, psychological and social benefits in the Oval Office.</p><p>In short, pets (<a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-being-cat-lover" target="_blank">yes, cats too!</a>) improve the quality of life in almost every context – including presidential ones. Perhaps they can, even in a small way, play a role in uniting a divided country. After all, personal politics aside, isn't it comforting to know there will be paws pattering around the White House again?</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ellen-furlong-1165354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ellen Furlong</a> is an associate professor of Psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ellen Furlong has written for Audible / The Great Courses. She has received funding from The National Institute of Health. She is a member of The Animal Behavior Society, The Comparative Cognition Society, The American Psychological Association, and The Society for Teaching of Psychology.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-bidens-dogs-could-make-the-oval-office-a-workplace-with-less-stress-and-better-decision-making-153406" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Conversation</a>.</em></p>
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