New study confirms that nature is responsible for 90% of the Earth's atmospheric acidity

From the UOW, nice to see that man isn’t the culprit in this case.

University of Wollongong60 Years, 1951-2011

UOW data confirm surprising atmospheric findings

Dr Murphy and Professor Griffith with the suntracker of the solar Fourier transform spectrometer that backed surprising satellite readings linking most formic acid emissions from forests

By Melissa Coade – Satellites showing that nature is responsible for 90% of the earth’s atmospheric acidity shocked researchers from the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, whose findings have just been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Stunned, the scientists approached a team from the University of Wollongong’s Centre of Atmospheric Chemistry (CAC) to confirm what satellite readings were telling them.

By providing data from a ground-based solar Fourier transform spectrometer instrument at the University, CAC used 15-years worth of information to verify the satellite’s story: all existing global models had substantially misjudged the main source of formic acid levels on earth – its forests.

UOW Physical Chemistry lecturer Dr Clare Murphy (Paton-Walsh) made the first measurements of formic acid with the instrument as part of her PhD looking at the atmospheric emissions of bushfires.

“The instrument provides a spectral record, of which you can analyse for a whole number of different gases, and formic acid is one that is relatively new,” Dr Murphy said.

“The modelling shows, particularly, that natural forest emissions have been highly underestimated. Our forest areas are producing more formic acid than we ever thought,” she said.

Dr Murphy said the unexpected results might well mean forests are responsible for most of the acidity in rainwater in areas other than highly-polluted inner-cities.

“Our instrumentation has global significance because the number of facilities in the region are very limited. In order to capture some of the major forests of the Southern Hemisphere this machine was crucial,” she said.

In the atmosphere, formic acid impacts a number of important pH-sensitive chemical reactions such as the production and loss of radicals affecting the ozone. Quickly absorbed by microbes, formic acid is not associated with the harmful effects of acid rain.

According to CAC coordinator and co-contributor Professor David Griffith, the results provide a whole new angle to existing knowledge about our atmosphere.

“When it comes to understanding the fundamental chemistry that goes on and the whole oxidiative cycle, where formic acid has an important impact is that it is one component of the soup which controls the ability of the atmosphere to oxidise pollutants and get rid of them,” Professor Griffith said.

“Normally you take your measurements and might make a 10 or 20 percent adjustment to an estimate of a source but here we’ve proven by several factors that our understanding was wrong,” he said.

The study showed that terrestrial vegetation accounts for 90 percent of annual formic acid production. Other sources include fossil fuel combustion, agriculture and biomass burning.

Alongside UOW co-authors Dr Murphy and Professor Griffith worked CAS members Dr Nicholas Jones and Dr Nicholas Deutscher.


h/t to Dr. Leif Svalgaard


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George E. Smith;

I wonder why scientists would be shocked or stunned by the results of their observations.
Seems to me that one would just accept the results one gets, and report them, without having to psychoanalyse the results.


OhOh. Good thing this hasn’t got out into the MSM. Just think what it would do to the CAGW/AGW whatever meme in fashion now!!

Richard M

A model is wrong? Couldn’t be! Must be a man made acidic atmosphere denier.

Well, that’s a shocker….. ‘we’ve proven by several factors that our understanding was wrong,”
Still, I’m going to need an atmospheric chemist to explain the implications. Isn’t formic acid simply hydrogenated CO2? And then if it gets gaseous doesn’t that make a whole host of implications? How much are we really talking about? My experience with it is limited to allergies and anaphylaxis considerations. Can we desensitized people by having them walk around in the woods?

Ken in Beaverton, OR

Those darn termites!


and it was reported by the bbc that the ipcc was appalled that two groups of scientists worked together and actually shared information to help prove their findings were accurate. mike mann was quoted as saying “imagine giving someone else your hardwork and data, not on my watch”….hehe

Wm T Sherman

Does atmospheric acidity = formic acid content?
I would have thought formic acid is one component of atmospheric acidity.

The Belgian study last month actually shocked Fred Pearce of New Superstitionist into admitting a bit of truth for once:
I seem to recall that the specific acid-rain scare in NE USA was disproved quite a while ago by a study of wind patterns; the forests in question couldn’t have gotten the pollution from the accused power plants.
Now it’s especially good to see the whole theory, not just the specific distribution, disproved twice!

Kevin O'Neill

Formic acid has long been known to be a result of the oxidation of natural methane formed during the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. Formic acid as an air pollutant is generally an indoor problem – and is especially of concern to museums. This research is interesting, but doesn’t seem to have much significance to climate change.
“The modelling shows, particularly, that natural forest emissions have been highly underestimated.”
I don’t have a problem with models.


They must be on the payroll of Big Acid.


Now that strikes a note in the old grey cells..
when designing timber (lumber ) drying sheds for European Woodland use, the 2 biggest problems for the shed materials always was the gases given off during drying; to cut a short story even shorter, you get Formic Acid and Lactic Acid, which sort of caused problems with cement based structures, (except for the fact that they had half dismantled themselves by the time the timber in the area had been cleared)
So it seems quite realistic.


I haven’t imagined ever that “atmospheric acidity” is one of the environmental concerns.
Perhaps “environmental scientists” have been busy finding “the next problem”?


oh stop…..the science is settled and we know it all
Is it going to rain tomorrow or not……..


I think a man named Reagan said something like this 30 years ago.

Nick Kermode

Mmmmmm, models confirmed by satellite data….trying to think where I have heard of that before. Aren’t these technically referred to as “computer games” here?

Harry Won A BAgel

I too am having trouble understanding the language of these scientists. Shocked? New data observed. Experiment developed to test long standing hypothesis . Hypothesis falsified. Another perfectly reasonable hypothesis developed and is not falsified. Kudos. Where is the shocked bit? It is as if for the reporter finding out humans are not the villains is of itself shocking.

Myron Mesecke

I remember when the doctor (played by Edmund Gwenn) held the bottle of formic acid under the nose of the catatonic girl and she came to yelling, Them! Them!
Maybe it’s not trees but ants.

“Killer Trees!”

After opining in August 1980 that “trees cause more pollution than automobiles do,” Reagan arrived at a campaign rally to find a tree decorated with this sign: “Chop me down before I kill again.” Washington Monthly Sept. 2003


Consider just how serious this is……..Co2 only comprises 0.03% and look at the damage that’s causing…..
We are causing ten percent of the damage in this case….more than 300 times the damage…….

New bumper sticker.
Stop Acid Rain
Chop Down A Tree


I once stirred up a large nest of red ants, and after they were frantically scurrying about, I leaned over their nest and took a deep breath. Wow! My nose had never ever before smelled anything as acrid as formic acid fumes! I don’t know if this was a coincidence or not, but that night I had the most vivid dreams of hand-to-hand combat with all kinds of people and animals.

Mark T

Wait… are they saying nature, or Nature?
Enquiring minds need to know. /sarc


Yeah, right. Next thing you know these researchers will be trying to have us believe that North America is a net CO2 sink.


Nick Kermode says:
January 11, 2012 at 6:12 pm
Mmmmmm, models confirmed by satellite data….trying to think where I have heard of that before. Aren’t these technically referred to as “computer games” here?
No, in this case empirical observations via satellite confirm the models. These models are actually validated by empirical observation … which the climate computer games can’t seem to master.

JackWayne says:
January 11, 2012 at 6:11 pm
I think a man named Reagan said something like this 30 years ago.
Good that you remembered. I also remember that. And I recall the scorn he got for such a statement. I’m trying to find a link to it, but have been unsuccessful so far.

Mark T

Harry Won:
Shocked that their foregone conclusions were not confirmed – at least they were honest enough to admit it.
I have had numerous discussions with engineers regarding testing of hypotheses/systems… the overwhelming conclusion is “I wanted to be wrong in hope that it would perform better.” We are rarely shocked unless we are right the first time.


And of course, people are not natural.

Mark T

Nor Nature.


Well, they may be shocked and all that, but I say let’s give them points for actually measuring something other than model “output.”

Roger Carr

Harry Won A BAgel says: “It is as if for the reporter finding out humans are not the villains is of itself shocking.”
There is a deep and important truth in that single line, Harry. It has driven madness abroad and exposed the facile depth of our group wisdom.

Rob Z

Finally some science where land measurements and satellite measurements agree! I wonder how many global climate modelers are going to “drop acid” now. /sarc

Reblogged this on The Blogspaper.

Steve Keohane

Myron Mesecke says: January 11, 2012 at 6:22 pm
Maybe it’s not trees but ants.

I agree. I learned ants used formic acid to mark their trails. At least they are not going on about airborne carbonic acid.


James Sexton says: :”Well, that’s a shocker….. ‘we’ve proven by several factors that our understanding was wrong,’ Still, I’m going to need an atmospheric chemist to explain the implications. Isn’t formic acid simply hydrogenated CO2? And then if it gets gaseous doesn’t that make a whole host of implications?”
No, formic acid is the product of oxidation, not reduction/hydrogenation. Methane and terpenes would be likely suspects for the precursors. Forests on a warm day will develop a form of smog from hydrocarbons released by the leaves and undergrowth. CO2 is a source of rainwater acidity, too.

Theo Goodwin

‘“The modelling shows, particularly, that natural forest emissions have been highly underestimated. Our forest areas are producing more formic acid than we ever thought,” she said.
Dr Murphy said the unexpected results might well mean forests are responsible for most of the acidity in rainwater in areas other than highly-polluted inner-cities.’
See what empirical research and experimentation can do. It produces surprises.
Climate science has never produced a surprise and never will. Why? Because they just do not have the instinct for the empirical or the energy for research.

The iceman cometh

jorgekafkazar says January 11, 2012 at 8:43 pm “CO2 is a source of rainwater acidity, too.” I have a paper under review that looks at the last 40 years of rainfall chemistry from 143 stations across the US in search of a signal that higher CO2 means lower pH in rain. Can’t find it. Multivariate analysis seems to show Ca and Mg content of rain determines pH.


So, Acid Rain comes from the Forest? SAY AGAIN??????
So the Acid Rain scare was indeed a hoax then. Good grief.

Allan MacRae

One more time – play it again, Sam:
Interesting data, that provides more evidence for my hypothesis, soon to be elevated to the
Law of Environmental Nonsense
“Nothing that 21st Century environmental radicals (aka global warming alarmists) have written is valid. It is all fictitious nonsense, concocted to frighten the gullible public, and unsupported by facts.“
A trillion dollars of scarce global resources has been squandered on false alarms concocted by politically-motivated environmental radicals. It is time to put a stop to this wasteful (and truly anti-environmental) foolishness.

Dave Wendt

It’s nice to believe that things may finally be swinging back toward rationality in the science of climate, but the forces of irrationality remain embedded like a tick on a coonhound throughout our government
“WASHINGTON — When the companies that supply motor fuel close the books on 2011, they will pay about $6.8 million in penalties to the Treasury because they failed to mix a special type of biofuel into their gasoline and diesel as required by law.But there was none to be had. Outside a handful of laboratories and workshops, the ingredient, cellulosic biofuel, does not exist.”

@Kevin O’Neill
Just seem all the models have huge problems with Earth systems. Is it Oceans, Atmosphere, Glaciers, Polar Bears or even short term local wheather. Only politicians seem to found, believe and trust the outcome of carefully engineered output.

A similar finding was that most aerosols found in the free troposphere (above the inversion layer and up to 7 km height) are from natural origin. That was measured by in situ sampling. In that case, the aerosol models used in GCM’s were highly underestimating the natural component. See:

Marlow Metcalf

I hope that Dr Murphy and Professor Griffith get lots of publicity for their work.
However I remember the 60 Minutes December 30, 1990 report of the National Acid Rain Precipitation Assessment Project (NAPAP). One thing that stood out in the report was a brief interview with an environmental activist. The reporter told him that the acid rain legislation would not help anything and the activist did not dispute that. He instead said that what was important was the legislation but did not explain why.
This article gives a good and long sequence of the events and research paid for and ignored by congress because too many people had their political power wagon hooked to the (humans are destroying the environment) horse. It also speaks of what happened to the lead NAPAP scientist Edward C. Krug.
Rear Mirror: The EPA vs. Ed Krug over the Acid Rain Scare
Source:  SEPP
ACID TEST by William Anderson
Published in Reason Magazine, January 1992
“Some people don’t like what Edward Krug has to say about acid rain. That was apparent when he spoke at a seminar on the subject last April in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Krug, a soil scientist who had helped conduct a 10-year federal study of acid rain, spoke with some expertise. He told his audience that he and his fellow researchers on the National Acid Rain Precipitation Assessment Project had determined that acid rain was an environmental nuisance, not a catastrophe.”
Save the Planet, Sacrifice the People: The Environmental Party’s Bid for Power
Edward C. Krug
Soil Scientist
This article published by Hillsdale College gives us more information.
“It was in this atmosphere that Congress passed a new Clean Air Act in 1990 in large part to allay manufactured fears of acid rain. What Congress is trying to cover up is the fact that this new legislation will cost our nation, conservatively, $40 billion a year.”

Stephen Richards

Do you know what, whenever I see something is 90% of that or 10% of that or any other firgure I know it is BS. It’s a guess. You know like ” 85% of women tested said it worked” and then below “of 185”. BS.
95% likely that the temp rise over the last 30% is AGW. BS

IIRC, It was first European settlers after 1788 who invented the name “Blue Mountains” for what was originally named “Carmarthen Hills” or other names.
These are the mountains that are west and north of the University of Woolongong, and behind Sydney, where the Fourier transform spectrometer detected formic acid at high levels.
Earlier reports attributed the Blue name to particulate oils from the Eucalyptus tree spp. that are so common in East Australia, via dispersion of sunlight. One needs only eyesight to know that there are special properties in the atmosphere here, but instruments are needed to decode them.
If the eye can see radiative effects, it is quite likely that some climate effect will be caused. The radiative flux might be changed, depending on the light absorption spectrum of molecular formic acid, which I have not studied.
This is apart from its inherent acidity. Some say that the bite of a bull ant stings because of formic acid.
This is merely one more example that climate science is not settled. There are many remaining intuitive observations that lead to untested hypotheses that cause wiser heads to suspect strongly that the science is not settled. The hard data are coming in as time rolls on.
There are many natural cycles that interact with others at various times and with various strength. It is scientifically naive to single out a carbon dioxide cycle as immune from interaction with other cycles. That is one reason why so many scientists now downplay the formerly held view that CO2 was the main driver of temperature change by man.
If CO2 appears as a culprit alone in its grandeur in the next IPCC report, then we will know that there is corruption behind the science.

Formic acid, apart from its use by ants and stinging nettles as a weapon, is widely used as a de-scaling agent for removing carbonate deposits from pots, kettles and bathroom stuff. Which it does very well, liberating lots of c****n d*****e in the process.
So that’s it – the science is settled and it’s the trees what done it.


I thought way back whe, that they claimed that the forests were at risk, due to acid rain?
And now, it is the forests that Produce acid rain?
….. Maybe it was the Ents, declaring war on each other.

wayne Job

In Australia the eucalypt forests discharge millions of tons of volatile aerosols into the atmosphere. We are left out of most things being where we are, I do hope that it is us causing all these problems with our fuminous forests. These people at Wollongong need to use a different forest before concluding. Eucalypts are bad a@se trees left over from thousands of years of burning, burning, burning by the indiginous population, they are bullet proof, bomb proof and fire proof, our original flora is almost extinct. Probably an unwise conclusion.


As a woman who loves the English language I’m delighted to see that you still use generic ‘man’. May you long continue to do so.
The usage is alive and well in popular culture – movies, TV, the popular press, WUWT – but is banned (by decree) in government departments, universities, local government, taxpayer-funded public broadcasters, seminaries … Get the picture?
It’s wonderful that despite decades of brainwashing generic ‘man’ is alive and thriving.


One supposes humans are just plain not “natural”. When ants build skyscrapers, they’re just natural. When humans build SUVs, we’re some alien artifact construct.

Kelvin Vaughan

Not more shocked scientists. Just goes to show how closed their minds are!