Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Volatile Organic Compounds in the Global Atmosphere



Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include saturated, unsaturated, and other substituted hydrocarbons. VOCs play an important role in the chemistry of the atmosphere by influencing ozone and hydroxyl radical (OH) concentrations, and the conversion rates of nitrogen oxides (NOx). Elevated levels of VOCs and NOx have led to an approximate doubling of ozone in the lower troposphere over the past couple of centuries, making tropospheric ozone the third most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. Because of ozone's strong oxidizing properties, increases in tropospheric ozone are a concern for living systems on Earth. Ozone stresses and damages vegetation, resulting in a reduction of terrestrial CO2 sequestration. VOCs also serve as a source of atmospheric secondary organic aerosol (SOA), which influences the solar radiation budget and cloud droplet nucleation. Through these complex interactions, VOCs play an important role in air quality and climate.