Trees Eat Pollution Better Than Expected

October 21, 2010

Some common and dangerous air pollutants found in cities can be absorbed by plants at far greater rates than ever suspected.

The discovery has big implications for modeling how vegetation affects pollutants, as well as how particles in the atmosphere affect human health and global warming.

The finding comes from a fruitful and unusual collaboration of plant geneticists and atmospheric scientists. The plant scientists found the genes used by plants and the conditions under which they are activated to allow more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to be absorbed, while the atmospheric scientists lugged equipment around the globe to verify that the plants were indeed sucking up pollutants in the real world.

"It's been hard to measure this in the real world," said Thomas Karl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "That's why we hauled this instrument all around the world."

Karl led the field work which involved gathering and immediately analyzing air samples in remote forests using a 200-pound, washing machine-sized mass spectrometer. He is also the lead author on a paper reporting the discovery in the Oct. 21 issue of Science Express.

Read the entire article in Discovery News by clicking here.