The discovery is outlined in a new paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which suggests that the traditional thinking around the formation of OH in the atmosphere is incomplete. Until now, it was thought that sunlight was the primary driver of OH formation, but this new research shows that OH can be created spontaneously by the special conditions on the surface of water droplets.
“You need OH to oxidize hydrocarbons, otherwise they would build up in the atmosphere indefinitely,” said Sergey Nizkorodov, a University of California, Irvine professor of chemistry, who was part of the research team.
“OH is a key player in the story of atmospheric chemistry. It initiates the reactions that break down airborne pollutants and helps to remove noxious chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide, which are poisonous gases, from the atmosphere.”
The implications of this discovery are significant. It could change the way we model air pollution, as the assumption has always been that OH comes from the air and is not produced in the droplet directly. This means that existing models may need to be revised to take into account this new source of OH.
It’s almost as though the science had never been settled.
h/t Stephen Green