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Ultrafine particles affect both health and climate. In urban areas, road traffic is considered to be the main source of the small particles. However, a long-term measurement campaign of researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) outside of cities has now revealed a source that particularly affects regional climate: modern coal-fired power plants. In the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the researchers report how the power plants' emissions influence the formation of ultrafine particles and which impact these particles have on climate.
Although ultrafine particles (UFP) have a diameter of less than 100 nm, they have an enormous impact on environmental processes: "They offer surfaces for chemical reactions in the atmosphere or may influence the properties of clouds and precipitation as condensation nuclei," says Wolfgang Junkermann of KIT's Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research (IMK). To study the existence and distributions of UFP, the environmental physicist, together with Australian colleagues, made measurement flights all around the globe in the past fifteen years. Measurements also covered the atmosphere outside of urban hotspots, in particular regions with conspicuous precipitation trends. In open nature, for instance, forest fires, dust storms or volcano eruptions produce fine particles, but mostly not in the nanometer range. The climate researchers found that UFP concentrations also increase constantly in many remote areas and that the new, additional particles are of no natural origin.
Course - Measurement - Flights - Junkermann - Particles
In the course of his measurement flights, Junkermann found that these particles are emitted by coal-fired power plants and refineries. "Exhaust gas cleaning takes place under conditions that are optimal for the new formation of particles. Ammonia is added to the exhaust gases in order to convert nitrogen oxides into harmless water and nitrogen." As this ammonia is available in the right mixing ratio for particle formation, concentrations in the exhaust gas...
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