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Total Atmospheric Emissions from the Biosphere

Project Description

The dominant source of hydrocarbons to the atmosphere is vegetation – biogenic volatile organic compounds or BVOCs. In the atmosphere, BVOCs undergo chemical processing, leading to the formation of secondary pollutants such as ozone and organic aerosol particles, affecting human and environmental health and climate. Therefore, understanding total BVOC emissions, and their response to (for example) temperature or CO2 abundance is a key priority to predict future biogeochemical cycling.

While many BVOCs can be measured using established techniques, some species are more difficult to quantify – in particular monoterpenes (C10H16 species) and sesquiterpenes (C15H24­ species) which dominate biogenic emissions, and which react with ozone. In parallel, measurements above forests suggest that existing data underestimates BVOC abundance. To address this challenge, we have developed a new approach to quantifying BVOCs, by directly measuring their total ozone reactivity in the air – a new metric which determines the overall reactive pool of BVOCs present, and which may be compared with traditional measurements of individual species. In this project, you will develop this new instrument, validate its performance in the laboratory, and deploy the instrument at the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) facility to investigate BVOC emissions from a nature forest under enhanced CO2 conditions. A key priority is to identify the temperature response of BVOC emissions. Later stages of the project are likely to involve further field deployments, potentially including with collaborators in Australia (Western Sydney) and Japan (Tokyo). The project builds upon a current NERC research grant which has supported the prototype instrument development, and will be carried out within a dynamic group of PhD students and postdocs addressing a range of atmospheric chemistry problems.

Instrument development work will be carried out at Birmingham, including measurements of BVOC emissions from individual plant species as a function of temperature and ligh, using the existing total ozone reactivity instrument, alongside conventional analytical approaches such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS) and proton-transfer-reaction mass spectrometry (PTRMS), with instruments in our laboratory. Field observations of total BVOC reactivity will be performed at the BIFoR-FACE Free Air Carbon Enrichment facility in Staffordshire, alongside deployment of the PTRMS and other atmospheric monitors. We will interpret these data using an atmospheric box model to relate the observed reactivity to individual species emissions, as a function of temperature and sunlight, and use the results to derive parameterisations for use in global models (by other researches in the group). Finally, we will look to perform experiments at the EucFACE facility at Western Syndney (in a comparable FACE facility studying eucalyptus trees), and Waseda Univeristy in Tokyo (with collaborators developing a similar apporach) to extend the range of environments studied. The project will operate in parallel to and benefit from the resources and staff of several current NERC research grants looking at related aspects of ozone chemistry and air pollution.


Biogenic volatile organic compounds in the Earth system

Laothawornkitkul et al., New Phytologist 2009, 183: 27–51. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2009.02859.x

Measuring Biogenic Volatile Organic Compounds (BVOCs) from Vegetation in Terms of Ozone Reactivity

Matsumoto, Aerosol and Air Quality Research, 14: 197–206, 2014. doi: 10.4209/aaqr.2012.10.0275

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 25.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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