Conifers emit volatile hydrocarbons, primarily terpenes, which we experience as the characteristic smell of the woods. In a complicated series of reactions involving ozone and sulfur dioxide, these compounds may be involved in the formation of aerosols that counteract the greenhouse effect. German scientists have now been able to follow the reaction of a terpene with ozone in the laboratory by using infrared (IR) spectroscopy. As they report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, they were able to identify critical intermediates of this process, namely the Criegee intermediates. They were also able to verify that these intermediates react very efficiently with sulfur dioxide.
Terpenes have a strong influence on the chemical processes that occur in the earth’s atmosphere, even though they are only present in trace amounts. Particularly in summer, these compounds are involved in the ozone chemistry of the troposphere. It has been shown that their oxidation plays a large role in the formation of secondary organic aerosols (SOAs), which influence our climate. These processes have not yet been completely explained and represent a large source of uncertainty in climate-prediction models. Researchers working with Thomas Zeuch at the University of Göttingen and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now gained new insights into the reactions of terpenes with ozone.