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Greenhouse Gas ‘Detergent’ Recycles Itself in Atmosphere: NASA Study

30 November 2018

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A simple molecule in the atmosphere that acts as a "detergent" to breakdown methane and other greenhouse gases has been found to recycle itself to maintain a steady global presence in the face of rising emissions, according to new NASA research. Understanding its role in the atmosphere is critical for determining the lifetime of methane, a powerful contributor to climate change.

The hydroxyl (OH) radical, a molecule made up of one hydrogen atom, one oxygen atom with a free (or unpaired) electron is one of the most reactive gases in the atmosphere and regularly breaks down other gases, effectively ending their lifetimes. In this way OH is the main check on the concentration of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is second only to carbon dioxide in contributing to increasing global temperatures.

Source: NASA

Image credit: NASA / Julie Nicely - Model output of OH primary production tracks with sunlight across the globe.

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