Trees could pollute the air

What could soon happen to our planet affected by global warming? That trees could even pollute the air. Oaks and aspens will emit compounds that exacerbate poor air quality. As? By contributing to the generation of aerosols and tropospheric ozone.

It is the conclusion of a study led by Tom Sharkey. He is a professor at the Plant Resilience Institute at Michigan State University. He studies isoprene and how plants produce it. The problem is that isoprene can improve clean air quality and at the same time make plants more resistant to stressors. Including insects and high temperatures.

Incredibly, trees could pollute the air.
Incredibly, trees could pollute the air.

Trees that pollute

«We want plants to produce more isoprene so that they are more resistant. Or do we want them to produce less so as not to worsen air pollution? “What is the right balance?” Sharkey asks in a statement. “Those are really the fundamental questions driving this work. “The more we understand, the more effectively we can respond to them.”

Isoprene from plants is the second most emitted hydrocarbon on Earth. It is only behind methane emissions from human activity. However, most people have never heard of it, Sharkey says. It gained a bit of notoriety in the 1980s. Then-US President Ronald Reagan falsely claimed that trees polluted the air more than cars. However, there was a grain of truth in that statement.

Isoprene interacts with nitrogen oxides found in air pollution. This is produced by coal-fired power plants and vehicle internal combustion engines. These reactions create ozone, aerosols and other byproducts. They are unhealthy for both humans and plants. Researchers are particularly interested in how those processes are affected by the environment. Especially in the face of climate change.

Global warming accelerates this process.
Global warming accelerates this process.

hot plants

In their experiments they used poplar trees. They tested by heating a leaf to 10 degrees Celsius. And the emission of isoprene increased more than tenfold, it was found.

The discovery will help researchers better anticipate how much isoprene plants will emit in the future. This way they can better prepare for its impacts. If even trees could pollute the air in the future, it is urgent to take action today.

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