Sulphuric acid formation affects climate, health

August 9th, 2012 - 5:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 9 (IANS) The formation in the air of sulphuric acid, which smells like rotten eggs, is significantly impacting our climate and health, says a study.

The study led by Roy “Lee” Mauldin III, research associate at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s atmospheric and oceanic sciences department, charts a previously unknown chemical pathway for the formation of sulphuric acid, which can trigger both increased acid rain and cloud formation as well as harmful respiratory effects on humans.

“Sulphuric acid plays an essential role in the Earth’s atmosphere, from the ecological impacts of acid precipitation to the formation of new aerosol particles, which have significant climatic and health effects. Our findings demonstrate a newly observed connection between the biosphere and atmospheric chemistry,” Mauldin was quoted as saying in the journal Nature.

More than 90 percent of sulphur dioxide emissions are from fossil fuel combustion at power plants and other industrial facilities, says the US Environmental Protection Agency, according to a university statement.

Other sulphur sources include volcanoes and even ocean phytoplankton. Sulphur dioxide reacts with hydroxide to produce sulphuric acid that can form acid rain, harmful to terrestrial and aquatic life on Earth.

Airborne sulphuric acid particles, which form in a wide variety of sizes, play the main role in the formation of clouds, which can have a cooling effect on the atmosphere, Mauldin said.

Most of the lab experiments for the study were conducted at the Leibniz-Institute for Tropospheric Research in Leipzig, Germany.

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