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Atmosphere's ability to cleanse itself studied

Some of the measurements used in the experiment are being made at the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station in Tasmania   

February 8, 1999
Web posted at: 11:50 AM EST

By Environmental News Network staff

(ENN) -- A team of Australian and British scientists is spending the summer down under studying the self-cleansing ability of the atmosphere as part of an international project called the Southern Ocean Atmospheric Photochemistry Experiment.

The atmosphere contains naturally occurring chemicals called hydroxl radicals that react with, and destroy, a range of pollutants and natural compounds. Some scientists think that hydroxyl levels may be changing and thus increasing concentrations of ozone gas in the lower atmosphere.

Ozone near the ground is both a greenhouse gas and an irritant that attacks the throat and lungs and irritates the eyes.

"A change in ozone and hydroxyl radical concentrations in the lower atmosphere would certainly affect stability of the world's climate," said Professor Stuart Penkett, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

The experiment is giving the scientists a present-day baseline in the cleanest air present in the atmosphere against which they can check future changes, said Penkett.

The Southern Ocean Atmospheric Photochemistry Experiment is taking place now because sunlight is most intense at this time of the year. The sun's energy plays a vital role in driving many of the chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

The Experiment involves measurements from the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station in Tasmania, from research aircraft and from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's research vessel the Southern Surveyor.

There will also be measurement flights by a small pilotless aircraft. The 'aerosonde' will fly as high as three kilometers, collecting data on atmospheric pressure, temperature, relative humidity and wind speed. These data will be used in conjunction with observations from the Cape Grim station of both atmospheric chemistry and meteorology.

The Southern Ocean Atmospheric Photochemistry Experiment is part of a major international effort to understand more about the chemistry of our atmosphere and its impact on climate.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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