We all know that plants absorb CO2, give us O2, aka oxygen, and remove pollutants from the air -in effect scrubbing it up a bit. But a new study found that trees and other deciduous vegetation absorbed roughly a third more pollution than previously expected. The research, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), used direct observation, gene expression studies, and computer modeling to show that deciduous plants absorb about a third more of a common class of air polluting chemicals than was previously suspected.
"Plants clean our air to a greater extent than we had realized," says NCAR scientist Thomas Karl, the lead author. "They actively consume certain types of air pollution."
The study, published in Science Express, focused on a class of chemicals known as oxygenated volatile organic compounds (oVOCs), which have long-term impacts on both the environment and human health. The oVOCs are formed in the atmosphere from hydrocarbons and other chemical emissions that are emitted from natural and human sources like vehicles and construction materials. Over time, some of the oVOCs become tiny airborne particles, called aerosols, which impact both clouds and human health.
By measuring oVOC levels in a number of ecosystems the research team discovered that trees and other deciduous plants seemed to absorb the compounds at a much faster rate than expected- up to four times quicker than was previously thought. This absorption is especially fast in heavy forests and occurred mostly noticeably in the tops of trees, with the forest canopies accounting for as much as 97 percent of the oVOC absorption recorded.
So plant a tree or two for the New Year and sit back and let it suck up pollution. Of course it helps to stop putting the pollution out there in the first place, so take a hike through the forest instead of driving to your next stop.