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Who Are the ‘Archaeologists Of The Air’?

Scientists have found aerosol particles that would have dominated the Earth's pre-industrial atmosphere.

amazon_canopy

Photo: Eric Miraglia (flickr)

Higher amounts of the particles emitted by rainforest plants create a very different climate.

Some have used the colorful term, ‘archaeologists of the air,’ to describe the scientists conducting this atmospheric study.

They work in the Amazonian Basin, a great place to study remote raiforest ecosystems. The air particles emitted from this region are practically unaffected by human industry and almost perfectly pollution-free. It’s like taking a time machine back to the pre-industrial age!

This allows scientists to compare the chemical makeup of polluted and unpolluted environments, and it will also help scientists learn the role that the Amazonian Basin plays in today’s global atmosphere.

Collecting Samples

Scientists are able to get these atmospheric samples from a giant 40-meter-tall tower that shoots up over the rainforest canopy.

The particle imaging done here is unlike anything scientists have been able to do in the past. In the Northern Hemisphere, and other human-populated regions, the samples are usually filled with some level of soot and other pollutants.

The aerosol concentration of samples from the Amazonian Basin is much lower than if they were to take air samples from above New York City, for example, where the addition of artificial or natural particles would be almost impossible to notice.

Change Is In The Air

The low aerosol concentration, as well as higher amounts of the particles emitted by rainforest plants, create a very different climate than that of a more polluted area. However, this pre-industrial haven may not exist forever.

Even the Amazonian Basin has begun to experience some human development.

This opportunity will allow scientists to study and compare the affects of human development on a previously “untouched” environment as it’s happening, but what potentially damaging effects will this development have on our global environment?

Only time will tell.

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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