Ozone is a harmful gas created when sunlight causes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to react with nitrogen oxides. Plant ecosystems can detoxify ozone in the air either by absorbing it directly into their leaves or through ozone deposits in the ground. The ability to deal with ozone and other pollutants is essential for forest ecosystems to withstand climate change and other human pressures. To study how this system works, scientists from the EXPLO3RVOC (Ecophysiological control by Mediterranean forest ecosystems on the exchange processes of ozone and reactive volatile organic compounds with a polluted atmosphere) initiative collected information about the complex interactions between Mediterranean forests and the atmosphere. Initially, the EXPLO3RVOC scientists set up specialised field equipment in Mediterranean forests to monitor changes in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These stations have begun collecting the long-term data needed to understand the balance of greenhouse gases in these ecosystems. During experimental research conducted in the field, the researchers also used sophisticated equipment to study changes in VOC concentrations across plants, soil and the atmosphere. Using laboratory experiments, project scientists found that plants have the capacity to take up pollutants from the atmosphere and simultaneously emit other chemicals. EXPLO3RVOC also recruited a full-time PhD researcher, who completed their thesis on the subject. These results contribute to understanding the complex interactions between Mediterranean forests – both their plants and soil – and the atmosphere. This will allow us to ensure forests survive the human impacts threatening them.
Forest ecosystems, ozone, volatile organic compounds, EXPLO3RVOC, soil, atmosphere