Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Clean is Our Air?

A team of researchers led by U. Pöschl and S.T. Martin have just released their scientific report on Rainforest Aerosols and the air quality of the Amazon. The field experiment was called the Amazon Aerosol Characterization Experiment 2008 (AMAZE-08), the teams intent was to find and study air that was as uncontaminated as possible, with little or no pollutants from human interference. The scientists conducted this study in 2008 near Manaus, Brazil. The study took place during the wet season which takes place between February to March. It was done during the wet season because it demonstrates pre-industrial conditions, meaning it avoids most pollution emissions from surrounding regions. The team discovered that the aerosols that compose the rainforests cloud condensation were mostly constructed of secondary organic material, which is a result of the oxidation of the rich foliage found in the Amazon’s forests. This data varies greatly from what air composition were already assumed to be, mainly because most research done on our air quality contains some level of pollutants, no matter how little it may previously have thought to be. In this blog I will be comparing the information presented by my primary source (research team) and my secondary source (the media).

It is evident, very early on, that there are many differences between a primary and secondary source. One of the most predominate differences is the credibility of the secondary source. Often the author of the secondary source seems to make concrete claims that lack appropriate evidence to support them. This is displayed when the author states that the new information on the composition of the air particles will undoubtedly transform the way atmospheric changes are viewed and analyzed around the world. However, there is no substantial evidence to support that these findings will cause that great of a transformation in the scientific global community. Another claim that the secondary source seems to make with lack of affirmation, is that the research conducted will help scientists predict how deforestation affects the life on our planet. (Heimbuch 2010). This idea was never mentioned or supported by the primary scientific journal article, in fact it is merely an assumption the author created based on the primary source, and therefore not a valid fact.

Fig. 1. Sample of particle types obtained by Amazon Aerosol Characterization Experiment 2008 (U. Pöschl et al. 2010).

The credibility of the secondary source is also affected by the lack of measurements and data presented about the findings of the experiment. For example, the actual measurement techniques and equipment used in the study by the scientists was never mentioned in the secondary source, nor did the author mention what the composition of the aerosol droplets consisted of. Unlike the primary source where all of the findings, equipment, data, measurements and techniques were discussed. Due to this reason, the primary source article was not as in depth and informative as the original paper.

Although the secondary source lacked many examples and measurable data, it fulfilled its purpose as a secondary source because it was directed to a different audience, compared to the primary source. The primary source is a scientific journal entry that is intended for a specific audience that is scientifically literate, as it is composed heavily of scientific terminology that the average person may have difficulty understanding. Thus, the secondary source is useful as it dissects the heavy information and projects it in layman terms so the average person can understand the study completed. Therefore the style of writing, including the formality of both articles vary greatly due to the different target audiences. Also the secondary source tends to make many assumptions and dramatizes much of the information, due to the lack of evidence used to support it. This is clearly evident in the title of the secondary source where it states that the research team is the first to successfully bottle the last pure air particles on Earth (Heimbuch 2010). Yet the original scientific report never affirmed that such a statement is true, and it also does not concretely claim to be the first study done on the subject.

Another difference between the primary and secondary sources, is the tone in which the material is presented. Not only does the language vary, but the underlining tone is distinct. The information presented in the primary source is very factual and not opinion based, due to the fact that it predominately consists of measurements taken and data collected, and not personal opinions. This slightly contradicts the secondary source because it tries to persuade the reader that the findings, although important, are monumental to developing new insights for our environment (Heimbuch 2010).

Fig. 2. The Amazonian Water and Aerosol cycle (U. Pöschl et al. 2010).

Pollution, specifically air pollution, has been a very controversial and important topic in the past few years especially with the rising issue of climate change. The Earth’s climate and atmosphere system are entirely based on and affected by the aerosols/particles it contains. Scientists are interested in finding out definitively what the human impact on our air quality means since the industrial revolution. In order to better predict climate change in the future, it is important not only to understand the anthropogenic impacts, but to also try to grasp a better understanding of the history of climate change from our past. It is conducive to hypothesizing more accurate predictions of what is to come. The more informed people are, the better the decisions they will make which will consequently affect the environment.


1)Heimbuch, Jaymi. "Last Pure Air Particles on Earth Captured for Climate Science." TreeHugger. 22 Sept.2010. Web. 24 Sept. 2010.> on-earth-captured-for-climate-science.php>.

2) U. Pöschl, S. T. Martin, B. Sinha, Q. Chen, S. S. Gunthe, J. A. Huffman, S. Borrmann, D. K. Farmer, R. M. Garland, G. Helas, J. L. Jimenez, S. M. King, A. Manzi, E. Mikhailov, T. Pauliquevis, M. D . Petters, A. J. Prenni, P. Roldin, D. Rose, J. Schneider, H. Su, S. R. Zorn, P. Artaxo, M. O. Andreae. "Science/AAAS | Science Magazine: Sign In." Science/AAAS | Scientific Research, News and Career Information. 17 Sept. 2010. Web. 24 Sept. 2010.

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