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Seminar: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Isoprene: A Chemical Link between the Biosphere and the Atmosphere
Glenn M. Wolfe

Air quality and climate change, two of the most pervasive environmental issues of the 21st century, are inextricably linked to our atmosphere. Near the surface, atmospheric composition is defined by the emission and transformation of a host of chemical species, including nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). While NOx is primarily a byproduct of anthropogenic activities (e.g. fossil fuel combustion), the vast majority (~90%) of global non-methane VOC emissions originate from the biosphere. Isoprene, a highly reactive hydrocarbon emitted by oak trees and other vegetation, comprises a full third of this budget. In many regions, isoprene and NOx fuel the photochemical processes responsible for production of secondary pollutants like ozone and organic aerosol, thereby impacting air quality and climate on a global scale.

Despite decades of research, our understanding of isoprene is still evolving. Emission inventories remain highly uncertain, and models struggle to reproduce observations in low-NOx, high-isoprene regions; however, much progress has been made. Recent laboratory studies have unveiled a wealth of novel reaction mechanisms, while field observations continue to challenge canonical chemistry and raise new questions. In this seminar I will highlight several such advances and demonstrate how new perspectives and measurement capabilities are helping to elucidate the details of isoprene chemistry. Completing this picture is critical for predicting and mitigating future impacts of anthropogenic activities on both the atmosphere and other Earth systems

Location: Physics Bldg., Room 401