U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Does Haze over Cities Contribute to Air Pollution and Climate Forcing?
Published: June 23, 2015
Posted: January 05, 2016

Hanging over many major cities for days on end, and especially during summer, is a brownish haze that some scientists think contributes to air quality issues and climate forcing because of its potential for absorbing sunlight and trapping surface heat. A team of scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Department of Energy’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) has started to examine the chemistry of brown carbon, a type of particle found in that haze. The team used analytical capabilities at EMSL, including high-resolution mass spectrometry, to study the particles that form around the chemical toluene, a common pollutant emitted to the atmosphere and found in the haze. They discovered that the addition of nitrogen oxide, which is found in the exhaust from combustion engines, produced heat-trapping particles, and that at high levels, the particles not only held significantly more heat but also turned yellowish brown. The research, highlighted on the cover of a recent issue of Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, provides new insights that could improve atmospheric and climate models.

Reference: Lin, P., J. Liu, J. E. Shilling, S. M. Kathmann, J. Laskin, and A. Laskin. 2015. “Molecular Characterization of Brown Carbon (BrC) Chromophores in Secondary Organic Aerosol Generated from Photo-Oxidation of Toluene,” Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics 17, 23312–25. DOI: 10.1039/c5cp02563j. (Reference link)

Further information

Contact: Paul E. Bayer, SC-23.1, (301) 903-5324
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Atmospheric System Research
  • Research Area: DOE Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


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