Sydney: Satellite imagery has revealed that 90 percent of the earth`s formic acid comes from nature, researchers say.
The revelation has stunned researchers from the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, who approached a team from the University of Wollongong`s Centre of Atmospheric Chemistry (CAC) Australia, to verify the satellite readings.
The CAC used 15-years of information to verify the satellite`s story: all existing global models had substantially misjudged the main source of formic acid levels on earth -- its forests.
In the atmosphere, formic acid impacts a number of important chemical reactions such as the production and loss of radicals affecting the ozone. Quickly absorbed by microbes, formic acid is not tied with the harmful effects of acid rain.
Wollongong`s physical chemistry lecturer Clare Murphy (Paton-Walsh) made the first measurements of formic acid with the instrument as part of her PhD looking at the atmospheric emissions of bushfires, the journal Nature Geoscience reported.
"The instrument provides a spectral record, of which you can analyse for a whole number of different gases, and formic acid is one that is relatively new," Murphy said, according to a university statement.
"The modelling shows, particularly, that natural forest emissions have been highly underestimated. Our forest areas are producing more formic acid than we ever thought," she said.
Murphy said the unexpected results might well mean forests are responsible for most of the acidity in rainwater in areas other than highly-polluted inner-cities.
According to CAC coordinator and study co-author David Griffith, the results provide a whole new angle to existing knowledge about our atmosphere.