All those suffering from respiratory issues like asthma and heart disease take heed! A new study,funded by the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and published in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, found that plants tend to absorb less pollution from the air during the climate change-induced heat waves now ravaging the globe. This maximizes the potential for heat stroke and even death amongst high-risk individuals. Research conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York sheds some light on how understanding the role of vegetation in pollution is crucial to our safety.
The ozone layer is renowned for protecting Earth from harmful cosmic rays in the atmosphere, but when ozone is produced at the Earth's surface by exhaust pipes and industrial emissions, it is the main source of smog and air pollution. It’s easy to forget about the implicit exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between humans and vegetation. Even without all the aesthetic value of Earth’s greenery, there is still this ongoing symbiosis that must never be taken for granted. The U.K. study’s lead author, Lisa Emberson, describes the vital role plants traditionally play in moderating polluted air.
At normal conditions, plants and other vegetation can absorb up to 20 percent of surface ozone through tiny pores in their leaves called stomata. However, during heat wave and dry spells, plants contract and close the stomata to retain water. This leaves less room for the ozone that continuously builds in the atmosphere. Emberson and her colleagues found that this phenomenon resulted in an estimated 460 additional human deaths in the U.K. during the hot summer of 2006.
2013 is shaping up to be comparably scorching. The best ways to avoid overexertion in such extreme heat is to stay in the air-conditioning and drink plenty of fluids. Also, abstain from alcohol and sugar as they dehydrate the body.