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Storms and Their Ozone May Create the Clouds in the Rainforest

First Posted: Jan 22, 2016 09:30 AM EST
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Storms and ozone may play a huge role in rainforest cloud creation. Scientists have taken a closer look at the clouds in rainforests and have found that storms may transport ozone molecules to the canopy of the rainforest and influence the chemical processes that affect cloud formation.

"The Amazon rainforest plays an important role in the southern hemisphere by transpiring moisture that is transported by clouds to many places that need precipitation," said Jose D. Fuentes, one of the researchers, in a news release. "However, there's a big gap in our knowledge of the underlying processes that influence the formation of clouds."

In this latest study, the researchers monitored levels of trace gases, such as ozone, and meteorological variables, such as precipitation and wind speed, under the canopy of the rainforest. The scientists found that deep, convective storms transported ozone-rich air parcels from the Earth's atmosphere to the surface, rapidly increasing surface ozone levels from 5 parts per billion by volume to nearly 40 ppbv.

"Deep, convective storms have two channels, one with upward moving air and another with downward moving air," said Fuentes. "Downdrafts bring ozone molecules down from the upper troposphere (the lower layer of Earth's atmosphere) to the surface where they can mix and react with other chemicals."

This increase of ozone at the Earth's surface can influence several atmospheric chemical processes, some of which may affect cloud formation via the reaction of planet emitted hydrocarbons. These reactions result in the formation of aerosols; clouds form when water vapor rises into the atmosphere, cools and condenses into aerosol particles that act as cloud condensation nuclei or "cloud seeds."

In the rainforest, this process is actually initiated and accelerated when ozone interacts with hydrocarbons, which are molecules made of hydrogen and carbon that are naturally produced and emitted by vegetation. The researchers also found that ozone levels in the rainforest remained elevated for more than two hours after storms, which highlights the importance of the ozone increases.

The findings are published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

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