Study Shows How Fast Aerosol Emissions Degrade on Atmosphere

Due to the obvious nanostructures generated by fatty acids as they spread, organic aerosols — such as those emitted in cooking — can linger in the atmosphere for several days.

Study Shows How Fast Aerosol Emissions Degrade on Atmosphere.

Image Credit: University of Birmingham.

Researchers will be able to better understand and forecast the impact of these aerosols on the environment and climate by understanding the processes that determine how they are changed in the atmosphere.

Experts from the Universities of Birmingham and Bath investigated the behavior of thin films of oleic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid often generated during cooking, using instruments at the Central Laser Facility and Diamond Light Source, both located at the Harwell Campus in Oxford.

Researchers were able to analyze the specific chemical features that influence how quickly aerosol emissions may be broken down in the atmosphere in the study, which was published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

The team was then able to forecast how long aerosols produced by cooking would stay in the environment using a theoretical model mixed with experimental data.

These aerosols have long been linked to poor air quality in cities, but their influence on human-caused climate change is difficult to assess. This is due to the wide variety of molecules contained in aerosols, as well as their differing interactions with the environment.

By analyzing the nanostructure of molecules formed during cooking that inhibits the break-up of organic aerosols, it is possible to characterize how organic aerosols are conveyed and dispersed into the atmosphere.

Cooking aerosols account for up to 10 percent of particulate matter (PM) emissions in the UK. Finding accurate ways to predict their behavior will give us much more precise ways to also assess their contribution to climate change.

Dr. Christian Pfrang, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham

Dr. Adam Squires, Co-author of the paper, University of Bath, added, “We’re increasingly finding out how molecules like these fatty acids from cooking can organize themselves into bilayers and other regular shapes and stacks within aerosol droplets that float in the air, and how this completely changes how fast they degrade, how long they persist in the atmosphere, and how they affect pollution and weather.”

The data was created and analyzed utilizing the University of Birmingham’s BlueBEAR high throughput and high-performance computer service, which was sponsored by the Natural Environment Research Council. BlueBEAR makes use of cutting-edge technology to provide researchers with rapid and efficient processing capacity while reducing energy usage with direct, on-chip water cooling.

Journal Reference:

Milsom, A., et al. (2022) The impact of molecular self-organization on the atmospheric fate of a cooking aerosol proxy. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.


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