When the lightning flashes above, the plants on the ground respond.
Scientists have long been aware that plants and trees can emit small, visible electrical discharges from the tops of their leaves when the plants are caught under electric fields generated by thunderstorms high overhead. These emissions, known as coronas, sometimes appear as faint, blue sparks that glow around objects.
Now new research suggests that plant-based sparks can change surrounding air quality in ways never before recognized. But whether the impact of these minishocks on the atmosphere is positive or negative is unclear.
published in the study 9 Aug Journal of Geophysical Research: AtmosphereThe researchers recreated the electric fields from thunder in the laboratory and analyzed the coronas from eight species of plants under various conditions.
The results show that all the coronas have created a large amount of free radicals – chemicals that contain free electrons that are highly reactive with other compounds, which can significantly change the quality of the surrounding air.
“While little is known about how widespread these emissions are, we estimate that the crowns generated in trees under thunderstorms could have substantial effects on the surrounding air,” study author Jena Jenkins, an atmospheric scientist at Penn State University, said in a statement.
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The two radicals emitted by plant crowns are hydroxyl (OH) and hydroperoxyl (HO .2) of which are both negatively charged and are known to oxidize or steal electrons from several different chemical compounds, converting them into other molecules.
Researchers have been particularly interested in the concentration of hydroxyl radicals, because they have a major impact on air quality.
“The hydroxyl radical contributes to the total atmospheric oxidation of many atmospheric pollutants,” study co-author William Brune, a meteorologist at Penn State University, said in a statement.
For example, if the hydroxyl radical reacts with greenhouse gases such as methane, then it can remove harmful molecules from the atmosphere and help fight climate change, Brune said.
But if the same radical overflows with oxygen, it can create ozone, which, although it plays an important role in the atmosphere, is toxic to humans. The radicals can also create aerosol particles that harm air quality, he added.
This is not the first time that researchers have shown a link between thunder and hydroxyl radicals.
In 2021, a research team led by Brune discovered that lightning is the major progenitor of the hydroxyl radical in the atmosphere. In his paper published in the journal ScienceThe team speculated that thunderstorms could be directly responsible for up to one-sixth of the hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere.
In September, another team led by Brune released a follow-up study, which was published in a journal Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, which showed that coronas produced by metallic objects such as telephone poles and transmission towers produce slightly higher levels of hydroxyl radicals than corona plants.
However, the levels of radicals produced by plants and artificial crowns are significantly lower than those produced directly from lightning.
“Any crime is generated by theo.” [plant] The corona of sparks and lightning was weaker than what we looked at, we still saw extreme amounts of hydroxy radicals being produced,” Jenkins said.
Considering the number of trees that are prone to lightning in areas, the crowns produced by plants can represent a major source of free radicals, with an inestimable effect on air quality, he added.
“There are approximately two trillion trees in the areas where thunderstorms are most likely to occur globally and at any given time 1,800 thunderstorms occur,” Jenkins said.
For this reason, researchers want to pursue these coronas more closely in order to more fully understand the effect they have on local air quality and on a larger global scale.
“The hydroxyl radical is the most effective purifier of the atmosphere,” Jenkins said. “So having a better understanding of where this stuff is happening can give us a fuller understanding of what’s happening in the air.”
Other studies suggest that thunderstorms are becoming more frequent and powerful as a result of human-induced climate change, so understanding the effects of thunderstorms on air quality is vital, he added.
During the experiments, the team made another discovery that could help accelerate this field of research: the spikes of the leaves gave off sharp ultraviolet rays.
This can allow the team to look sideways at where the crowns are forming in the field and measure their effects on nearby air quality.
This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.
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