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Another reason to plant more trees

This stand of hemlock in Michigan's Upper Peninsula helps "clean" the air by absorbing oVOCs.
This stand of hemlock in Michigan's Upper Peninsula helps "clean" the air by absorbing oVOCs.
Image by Justin Link

This information is from a fascinating article reported in Science Daily on October 23, 2010 entitled Plants Play Larger Role Than Thought in Cleaning Up Air Pollution, Research Shows that states:

The results indicated that, on a global level, plants are taking in 36 percent more oVOCs than had previously been accounted for in studies of atmospheric chemistry.

Additionally, since plants are directly removing the oVOCs, fewer of the compounds are evolving into aerosols. 'This really transforms our understanding of some fundamental processes taking place in our atmosphere, says NCAR scientist Thomas Karl, the lead author.

The oVOCs are oxygenated volatile organic compounds which come from both natural and man-made sources (cars, trucks, construction material). These oVOCs can become aerosols that can impact human health, usually in a not good way.

NCAR is the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Scientists from NCAR, the University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Arizona studied how trees are affected by higher levels of oVOCs. They found that the trees "appear to be taking up the compounds at an unexpectedly fast rate--as much as four times more rapidly than previously thought."

The study does not speculate whether the chemical behavior of the trees has changed, that is are the trees now absorbing oVOCs at a faster rate because there are higher levels of oVOCs available and the trees are under stress. But it is interesting that deciduous plants, like trees, are cleaning pollutants from the atmosphere more quickly than thought before. This new understanding of the process will change the climate model software used by NCAR. Expect more studies to follow.

Here in Michigan, the home of the automobile, the former logging center of the United States, this report gives us yet one more good reason to plant more trees. The MDNR managed forest lands are a good thing. Corporately managed forests are a good thing. Homeowners can also impact the atmosphere by taking out lawn and planting trees. We can all encourage and support more cities and towns to plant trees in parks and along city streets. We can ask local governments to require that tree islands be mandated in new and reconstructed parking lots and that those lots be made of permeable materials. We can vote for local officials who will support buffers zones along local waterways. We can encourage business to add more deciduous trees to their landscape.

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