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How moss can help study air pollution

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Moss can be used to monitor air pollution levels in urban environments around the world, according to a study conducted in the Scottish city of Aberdeen.

Thomas Daniya, a PhD student at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen, wanted to investigate how common plants could help measure levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in different cities. PAHs are a group of air polluting substances, including: from traffic.

Travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic made this impossible for the researcher. Instead, Daniya focused his research on the city of Aberdeen, where he collected moss samples from local parks and other public spaces. They were intended to collect samples to measure PAH levels. They showed surprising levels of these substances in residential areas after movement restrictions were lifted. A study on this topic was recently published in the scientific journal “Frontiers in Geochemistry”.

Mosses as an indicator of air pollution

Mosses draw water and nutrients from the air rather than from their root systems, which means they are very effective at picking up air pollutants such as PAHs.

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Using moss, Daniya found a convenient and novel way to track PAH levels without the need to set up additional sample collection devices, thereby simplifying the data collection process. By measuring samples when pandemic restrictions were put in place, he was able to record patterns in PAH levels associated with fluctuations in traveler activity.

A chance for new scientists

As well as revealing the scale of how travel has affected pollution levels in Aberdeen, the experiment also revealed that the mosses could be easily collected by anyone living in urban areas and used to assess the presence of PAHs. This gives citizen scientists citizen-scientist) the opportunity to play an important role in monitoring air quality in cities around the world.

Daniya’s dissertation supervisor, Dr Stephen Bowden, added that this research highlights the potential of mosses as accessible and effective indicators of urban air quality, providing valuable information on the impact of travel restrictions on pollution levels.

“This innovative approach creates new opportunities for widespread monitoring of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by citizen scientists, which could lead to a deeper understanding of the relationship between individual behavior and environmental quality,” Bowden added.

University of Aberdeen, tvnmeteo.pl

Main photo source: Adobe Stock

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