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As air pollution continues to be a serious problem across the globe, scientists and environmentalists have been searching for a variety of ways to address this environmental issue. Indicating the problem, recent research revealed that plant-based sparks might alter the local air quality in ways that were not known before. It is, however, uncertain whether these atmospheric mini shocks will have beneficial or detrimental effects, LiveScience reported.
It is pertinent to mention that plants on the ground may retaliate in kind when lightning flashes overhead. The ability of plants and trees to emit tiny, observable electric discharges from the tips of their leaves when encased in the electrical fields produced by thunderstorms high in the sky has long been known to scientists. These discharges, which are known as coronas, can occasionally be seen as weak, blue sparks that glow around charged objects.
The study, which has been published on August 9 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, involved simulating thunderstorm electrical fields in a lab setting and examining the coronas emitted by eight plant species under various settings. According to the findings, every corona produced a lot of radicals, which are chemicals with unpaired electrons that are very reactive with other substances and may dramatically change the local air quality.
According to the LiveScience report, Hydroxyl (OH) and hydroperoxyl (HO2) are the two radicals released by plant coronas. Both of these negatively-charged radicals and have been shown to oxidise, or steal electrons from, a variety of different chemical compounds, converting them into other molecules. The quantities of hydroxyl radicals attracted the attention of the researchers in particular because of their larger influence on air quality.
Further, Jena Jenkins, lead study author and an atmospheric scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement, “While little is known about how widespread these discharges are, we estimate that coronas generated on trees under thunderstorms could have substantial impacts on the surrounding air".
A hydroxyl radical, for instance, can help fight climate change by removing harmful chemicals from the environment when it interacts with greenhouse gases like methane, according to co-author William Brune, a meteorologist at Penn State University. However, when the same radical combines with oxygen, it produces ozone, even though ozone plays a significant function in the high atmosphere, it is harmful to people. He stated that the radicals can also produce aerosol particles that are bad for the air.