Sunday, January 22, 2023

Plants spark with electricity during thunderstorms

Scientists have long been aware that plants and trees can emit small, visible electric discharges from the tips of their leaves when the plants are trapped beneath the electrical fields generated by thunderstorms high overhead. These discharges, known as coronas, are sometimes visible as faint, blue sparks that glow around charged objects.

Weirdly, these discharges may affect air quality. In a 2022 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, researchers found that coronas produced high levels of highly reactive chemicals called radicals. Radicals lack electrons and can steal them from nearby atoms, thus altering the chemical compounds around them. This may remove some harmful compounds from the air, but may also create new air pollutants as well, the researchers reported.

The two radicals given off by the plant coronas are hydroxyl (OH) and hydroperoxyl (HO2), both of which are negatively charged and are known to oxidize, or steal electrons from, a number of different chemical compounds, thereby transforming them into other molecules. The researchers were particularly interested in the concentrations of hydroxyl radicals because they have a greater impact on air quality.

Source: Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres (https://doi.org/10.1029/2022JD036761)

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